Mini-Review: I Killed My Mother

I Killed My Mother

At long last Xavier Dolan’s debut feature came to the US this year. While you can take your pick between either of his first two films, I preferred this one. As someone who does like to dabble in a bit of auteurist critique I would’ve preferred to have seen this film before Heartbeats. There is a bit of Dolan’s visual flair and editing sensibility on display, and a certain lack of orthodoxy in his approach, at least to start that tells and introspective, interesting tale of a combative mother-son relationship that avoid facile resolutions, or even conflicts; and furthermore doesn’t make either really in a hero mold but rather antagonistic to one another.


2011 BAM Award Winners- Crew Categories

First, while I think that this “trifurcated” method of presenting winners is the way to go the nomenclature is something that may change. I considered “Above the Line” and “Below the Line” but that’s far too industry a term and furthermore it skews the breakdown of awards presented per post. Having said all that not all the categories in this post are crew per se, maybe behind the scenes is better but I’ll think over in the year to come. In any case here are the awards for non-actors.

Best Director

Martin Scorsese in Hugo (Paramount)

J.J. Abrams Super 8
S.J. Clarkson Toast
Martin Koolhoven Winter in Wartime
Paolo Virzì The First Beautiful Thing
Martin Scorsese Hugo

I will grant you that I read more about Scorsese’s process for Hugo than the other directors thanks to the film companion book written by the author of the novel. However, I also knew the book and got a sense when reading it that it might be a stronger piece cinematically than it was in text. After all it is an illustrated novel. It’s a novel wherein Selznick omitted words when he felt illustrating portions would be better. It’s also a case of knowing and understanding a vision and seeing a vision are two different things. This film was on the radar earlier for me than for most. All I learned about it heightened my anticipation, yet I never expected box-office results (which it sadly hasn’t really seen) or critical acclaim (which its gotten in spades) and the last thing I expected was for my lofty expectations to be far exceeded. I could ramble about why I love Scorsese’s process for making this film but anyone who knows anything about him knows his passion and knowledge and how he tries, when applicable, to imbue that to those he works with. All these directors had a great vision for their films, all succeeded to ridiculous heights. Scorsese just does so in a whole other stratosphere and on many, many levels and in different ways than in films past.

Best Cinematography

Asa Butterfield and Chloë Grace Moretz in Hugo (Paramount)

Larry Fong Super 8
Eduardo Serra Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Stephanie Anne Weber-Biron Heartbeats

Robert Richardson Hugo
Janusz Kaminski War Horse

This category is usually, and especially this year, just flat-out unfair. Minus the being undead part I feel like little Gage Creed in Pet Sematary shouting my protestations, “No fair! No fair!” Each one of these films is beautiful to look at and exemplifies flawless technique but also motifs that I am enamored of. Larry Fong takes Abrams’ penchant for lens flare and places it in as naturalistic a context as possible, Serra who works best when moving the camera frequently scarcely stops in this last chapter of an epic series, Weber-Biron’s work in Heartbeats is a staggering display of composition and luscious saturation, Kaminski, ever the chameleon like his frequent director Spielberg, brings landscapes not only to life but emblazons them with surreal beauty; and those are the runners up. Like Gage said “No fair!”

Here’s the best case for why 3D can work and why Hugo is enhanced by it. Aside from the technical aspect where every single shot of the film was shot in 3D, whereas even “real” 3D films have some post-conversion element. Shots were composed, framed, lit and even cut together with that effect in mind. And it’s not a shock and awe effect they seek but an invitation, an envelopment.

I frequently mention (whenever it’s the case) how I didn’t want a movie to end. I have never in my adult life felt like I was in the film. I had that feeling at times watching Hugo. It’s a 3D about creating a space and the feeling of room and a real view on an imagined world rather than explosions and chases. It’s about inviting the viewer closer to an intimate tale, involving the audience more than before and the main component to that is the photography.

Best Makeup

Tyler Labine & Alan Tudyk in Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (Magnet Releasing)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Super 8

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

Winter in Wartime

This one is always tough. Substandard makeup work is always easier to spot. Natural makeup work is easy to take for granted and effects makeup is easy to over-value. More axioms are possible but that’s the bottom line so typically what I seek is something unique in the mix with standard work, which is the case for most of these nominees. The most versatile though is the cross-section in Tucker & Dale vs. Evil you have college kids (standard) the backwoods characters unfairly looked-down-upon (a bit more unkempt) then your effects (blood & gore) all done brilliantly.

Best Original Screenplay

JJ Abrams on the set of Super 8 (LA Times)

J.J. Abrams Super 8

Michel Hazanvicius The Artist
Benjamin Hessler Rammbock
Stevan Mena Bereavement
Paolo Virzì and Francesco Bruni and Francesco Piccolo The First Beautiful Thing

“Bad things happen, but you can still live.”

That’s the line that sends Super 8 above and beyond the other worthy candidates. One sentence comprised of eight words gives two characters (one not of this world, one a boy forced to grow up too fast) the strength to move on. There are other examples in this film where sparse, terse statements say so much: “I am in him as he is in me…” and so on.

Not to go overlooked without additional praise are the other writers here: Michel Hanzavicius not only wrote a great script for a mostly silent film but also used sound and dialogue on a few occasions in such a brilliant way emphasizing how important they are by not wasting them on trivialities. Benjamin Hessler in an hour of screen time accomplishes so much it’s awe-inspiring. Watch Rammbock. The First Beautiful Thing builds character and manipulates time magnificently. Bereavement is the best horror film I’ve seen in a decade concept and script are the cornerstone to that.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Martin Scorsese shows and illustration from the book to Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz (Paramount)

Marti Noxon and Tom Holland Fright Night
Steve Kloves and JK Rowling Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

John Logan and Brian Selznick Hugo
Lee Hall and Nigel Slater 

Mieke de Jong, Martin Koolhoven, Paul Jan Nelissen and Jan Terlouw Winter in Wartime

Similar to the other screenwriting category a lot of praise to go around here: Fright Night had some of the smartest, funniest dialogue of the year. Lee Hall’s sensitivty and talents know no bounds. Winter in Wartime is a grossly overlooked and underrated film that will please fans of many genres. Lastly, I don’t think I’ve ever not nominated Steven Kloves for a Harry Potter film but that does not diminish his contribution to the series or these nominations. Changing directors was something the series could survive but not screenwriter. Had he not been a mainstay it would’ve been very different.

As for the winner as many have noted, and I picked up on a few of these as well, there are marked differences between Hugo as a book and a movie that go well beyond just the title. All of these changes enhance the film. They make the story work better on film. They were made with the medium in which they were telling the story in mind and they worked brilliantly.

Best Editing

The Tree of Life (Fox Searchlight)

Job ter Berg Winter in Wartime
Mary Ann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey Super 8

Mark Day Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Thelma Schoonmaker Hugo

Hank Corwin, Jay Rabinowitz, Daniel Rezende, Billy Weber and Mark Yoshikawa The Tree of Life

It is often said that all films are made three times. The first is the script, the second is principal photography and the third is in the editing room. Never has a film being made in the edit been more clear than in The Tree of Life. I’d love to see the original script and the supposed 4-hour cut but everything you think of this film whether you love it as I do or you hate it comes down to the editing. Even the cinematography which would be brilliant regardless is better because of the way the images splice together. Perfect frame to perfect frame, disconnected thought to disconnected thought. It like every film is a puzzle. In this one you can place the pieces together how you please and tell people what you see. Not the other way around.

Best Score

Stevan Mena Bereavement
Alexandre Desplat Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Howard Shore Hugo
Michael Giacchino Super 8

Jónsi We Bought a Zoo

With these categories not much needs saying. These scores are all great. This clip and the way it plays with the ending are what clinches it for Super 8.

Best Sound Editing/Mixing

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Super 8

Real Steel

X-Men: First Class

I rarely get actively excited about sound design though it does interest me. I took a sound class and did a lot of very hard work in it and learned a hell of a lot but the bottom line as this sequence and the film progresses the fades, levels, cuts and creation of these sounds, whether it be a compartment door slamming into the ground, an explosion or Cooper’s (the alien) roar it all fascinated and inspired me and made me pay attention, immediately on first viewing.

Best Visual Effects

The Adventures of Tintin
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Super 8

Real Steel

The real litmus test for special effects is not thinking “Oh, those effects are really good” but rather not thinking about them at all then realize what they were, now that’s impressive. Even more impressive when you learn about what was done to create them. The video above is a quick illustration of what went into Real Steel. The only film wherein I didn’t think about effects until after I’d seen it.

Best Art Direction

Asa Butterfield and Ben Kingsley in Hugo (Paramount)


Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

Winter in Wartime

X-Men: First Class

Art Direction frequently goes hand in hand with cinematography in Hugo more so than most. In a situation where you’re bringing an audience into a world attention to detail is of paramount importance the sets and their dressings become like a character.

Best Costumes

Sacha Baron Cohen, Chloë Grace Moretz and Asa Butterfield in Hugo (Paramount)



Super 8


I don’t care for the period bias that exists in costuming therefore I make sure to pay extra attention in modern/present day films to see if something catches my eye and a few nominees reflect that. What works best in Hugo has nothing to do with the fact that there’s an attempt to capture a time or a place but rather to create looks emblematic of character as frequently the actor has but one look through a majority of the movie. For the Station Master there was created a uniform as idiosyncratic as he is, for Hugo an outfit that at one time might’ve been his best but is now tattered and ratty and his only one similarly for Isabelle she is better dressed but always recognizable and so on. Adding to the 3D element all the decisions made here and in Art Direction also take texture into consideration: tweeds, wool and other fabrics with character are chosen.

Best Song

Justin Bieber in Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (Paramount)

“Chatte Batte” Chillar Party
“Exploded Diaper” Löded Diper Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules
“I Want Candy” Cody Simpson Hop
Born to be Somebody” Justin Bieber Justin Bieber: Never Say Never
“Pictures in My Head” The Muppets

“Let Me Take You to Rio (Blu’s Arrival)” Ester Dean & Carlinhos Brown Rio

If you look at past winners in this category you’ll see diversity. Here there is too: Chatte Batte is a sung in voice-over theme song from a Bollywood kids’ comedy. I have a weakness for Bollywood due to a college course so I really should see more. One of the BAM Awards past quirks was that a Bollywood film Lagaan was up for Best Picture and nothing else.

Second, is essentially a rock song but it’s also a jokey kind of song which is one of the highlights of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules. Jokey and Rock combos also have precedent amongst past winners.

Hop isn’t all that great but it features a pretty good cover of “I Want Candy” and that song lifts the film some when used. Covers also have precedent hence I usually remove the Original from the category name.

The Muppets could’ve easily had a few nominees and I didn’t expect that when the process started and now is as good a time as any to say “Yes, I do surprise myself sometimes and I’m not 100% sure of every single nominee before I start.” With The Muppets it was a case of the first impression not being as strong but the songs stuck after a while.

So why Justin Bieber‘s song? As a recent Twitter conversation made me realize songs in films in general are less thought about and less integral than they ever have been. Another issue is how does one judge the pedigree of the “Original” song or song in this case. Now whether or not the song was really written for the film is a dicey and difficult thing to prove, which is why I ceased to care about that so much. Therefore it’s really about a song debuting in the film or a well done cover.

If one looks at past Original Song Oscar winners you can see they used to be far more iconic and in the middle of the picture than recently; a past example being “Let the River Run” by Carly Simon in Working Girl. Aside from seeing more movies, which after a record-setting year would be hard to do, there’s little I can do to affect the field. Songs don’t play as much of a role so how good a song is a huge criteria. I like all these songs. That’s simple.

The bigger criteria is the influence they have on the overall film. That is clear to see in Muppets where it sets the nostalgic, quasi-melancholy tone before the reunion and in Rio where it’s a joyous celebration of locale. That puts those above songs from Hop and Diary of a Wimpy Kid because those songs merely accompany incidents and don’t shed light on any of the story.

However, as I wrote in my initial review of Never Say Never the story of the documentary is not only Bieber’s but also that of his fanbase who more so than with any other artist propelled him from anonymity to viral sensation to global superstar faster than had ever before been seen. The lyrics of the song by Diane Warren are ostensibly about him but could apply to anyone. Also, while this song plays over the credits it’s accompanied by footage which brings the story full circle and thus music matches the imagery and enhances the end of the film, which depending on execution can be its most important moment. So whether it was “slapped on” in actuality or not it doesn’t feel like it is and is a coda to the film that matches the emotion of the piece so well. You can dismiss it as excuse to get another single for him on iTunes and to tie into the movie but it works aesthetically in my estimation so that’s what matters since marketing is a fact of life. Aesthetics and marketing are more closely tied in film than in any other artform.

Also, the fact that “Never Say Never” spawned a movie and in that movie would be another worthy original song is pretty surreal if you think about it. In a way that fact reflects the film and the story in general.

Mini-Review Round-Up #3

This is something I’m going to do periodically. Basically, I will employ many means to qualify films for the BAM Awards be it either seeing the film theatrically acquiring a DVD either through purchase or on Netflix. This could lead to an influx of several new titles being seen in a short span of time which would be difficult to write full reviews for. At least this way the film gets some of its deserved attention and you get some notion of my thoughts on them.

If you have questions or comments feel free to respond. I always get back.

As always please refer to My Rating Scale for an indication of what the scores mean and if you’re curious where these films might make a dent in my personal awards please check my BAM Considerations.

The Ward

John Carpenter’s latest film goes inside a pysch ward and tries to unravel why its newest inmate is there.

There are portions of this film which are tremendously effective and as a whole I think this is a very good film. The tension builds and is maintained throughout mostly thanks to the very good cast that is assembled in this film. This is so rare in a horror film that it truly is a sight to behold. The film also incorporates a twist which is not wholly inorganic and does elevate the film and answers a few of the elusive questions it had posed throughout.



Heartbeats (2010, IFC Films)

Director Xavier Dolan’s sophomore effort about a love triangle where a young man is the prize for a gay man and his girlfriend is a rumination on unrequited love and love in general.

I can see why this didn’t get the fanfare that his first film, J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother), did but in it Dolan proves himself to be a flat-out artist. He not only acts in it but directs it with a steady hand. The only things that hold it back is a conceptual/intellectual disconnect with how the material is rendered but there is an absolute certainty to how he does things. The cinematography is brilliant and vibrant throughout; the framing precise, the edit is good. The use of slow-motion is at times inspired and his affinity to source music rivals Tarantino. It’s not the greatest script but it is perhaps the best treatment that script could’ve gotten.


The Suite Life Movie

The Suite Life Movie (2011, Disney Channel)

A funny and silly sci-fi tale wherein twin brothers face off against a mad scientist.

I believe in judging everything on what it is and what its goals are. Therefore, a DCOM (Disney Channel Original Movie for the uninitiated) cannot be judged against Citizen Kane. Each are doing very disparate things. Another caveat for those who will point out that this is a TV movie I’ve allowed them to be eligible before both for the good and the bad in my awards (Note: Only winners are linked to) therefore I should try and see a few each year or bar them and essentially the aesthetics are the same, the commercial break on streaming merely turns into a fade to black and then fade in.

Having said all that this film really works for what it’s trying to do and I was surprised that I enjoyed it quite a bit. Both Cole and Dylan Sprouse, who are no strangers to film acting, have far more naturalistic interpretations of their characters in this film than they do in a typical episode of the show. The film also manages to be rather self-contained and doesn’t require one to be overly-familiar with the show to enjoy and appreciate what’s going on. The mad scientist involvement is one not seen much these days but can definitely still be employed to great affect.

It’s funny, silly and even gets emotional with a point to be made. I’m not saying it’ll be in the year end fray but I was pleasantly surprised by it as it is one of the most enjoyable DCOMs I’ve seen in some time.


Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure

Spinning off from the High School Musical series, Sharpay movies to New York to try and make it on Broadway.

As opposed to the DCOM above this one for the most part misses the mark entirely. The High School Musical craze has come and gone and this is a perfect example of going to the the well one time too many. Sharpay, of course, starts this adventure off as cartoonishly spoiled and through the course of it will transform into a person who does things for herself and is a real person and has real emotions. It’s just one of a list of things in this film that’s asking a bit too much to be believed. The shame of it is that Tisdale is charismatic when just playing someone closer to herself but she’s rarely allowed to do that. The outlandish, ridiculous and wrong also overshadow a humorous and engaging turn by Bradley Steven Perry better known from his role on Good Luck Charlie.

There are things to like about the film but there are many more that will annoy you to no end. Hopefully, this is the swan song for the franchise because it really is running on fumes now.


13 Assassins

A group of assassins join forces to kill an evil lord in 19th century Japan.

There is a lot that is technically impressive about 13 Assassins. The cinematography is very impressive, some of the acting is very strong a lot of the make-up work is good. Other things just fall terribly flat. There are a lot of characters introduced at the start such that the film even includes titles to tell you who they are and the overall plotting is slow to unfurl. It leaves you wanting and begging for the “heist scene” so you know what the endgame is. Then the battle just goes on practically forever, such that after a while I really was no longer interested in the outcome only that the movie would in fact, as rumors had it, end.


Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

This is actually one of the first films I saw this year and after a little research I decided that I would include it for consideration in the 2011 BAM race.

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll is the story of punk rock icon Ian Drury over a long and tumultuous career.

This is a very unique and creative film and there are a lot of interesting narrative and directorial choices made throughout the course of it. Upon these decisions your opinion will hinge and they are totally open to interpretation some work, some don’t and some work with mixed results but at the very least there are chances taken in this film. What stands out most in the film are the performances of Andy Serkis and Bill Milner. Both are faced with enormous challenges in this film as actors and both succeed. Serkis has a massive arc to play and many different notes and Milner has to play his character from a youth and ages with him over many years quite impressively.

Aside from that it will introduce you, if you are unfamiliar with it as I was, to a lot of good music throughout.