Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill star in “Moneyball.” Photograph by Melinda Sue Gordon, courtesy of Columbia Pictures
“Why would I want to watch a movie about Facebook?” people said over and over again last fall before the release of The Social Network, which proved that there can be high drama in what may at first appear to be the driest of situations. Aaron Sorkin’s fast-paced script was a big reason for that film’s success, and he’s back this fall to answer the similar question, “Why would I want to watch a movie about baseball statistics?” Sorkin’s source material is Michael Lewis’s bestselling book of the same name, which looked at how a team with hardly any financial resources—the Oakland A’s—managed to use statistical analysis to put together a ballclub capable of winning games against competition with payrolls three times their own.
Brad Pitt stars as A’s general manager Billy Beane, and Jonah Hill plays the straight man for once as Peter Brand (a fictionalization of the real-life equivalent Paul DePodesta), the assistant general manager who helps show Beane how they can use sabermetrics to figure out which undervalued players will help the team score runs. Philip Seymour Hoffman is also onhand as grizzled A’s manager Art Howe. With this much high-profile talent in front of and behind the camera, consider this Hollywood’s first big opening salvo for the 2011 awards season.
Every year at this time, the long-running Latin American Film Festival takes over most of the programming at the AFI for three weeks. This year’s festival has over 40 features from all over Latin America, plus Spain and Portugal. The festival showcases titles that are award winners and hits in their own countries but which, in many cases, missed out on US release. The AFI allows local audiences to see the cinema of these regions that they might otherwise miss out on. This year’s festival kicks off tomorrow with writer/director Trisha Ziff’s Mexican Suitcase, about three boxes found in Mexico City in 2007 that contained 4,500 photo negatives of three photographers who documented the Spanish Civil War. Ziff will be on-hand for the screening. Other highlights include: Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within, which is the biggest financial success in the history of Brazilian film; Mysteries of Lisbon, the final film from director Raúl Ruiz, who passed away last month; Medianeras, an Argentinean romantic comedy in which the couple doesn’t actually meet until the end of the film; Blackthorn, which stars Sam Shepard as an aging Butch Cassidy, who, as legend has it, actually survived to live out his days in anonymity in Bolivia. Those selections are just scratching the surface.
View the trailer for tomorrow’s opening night film, Mexican Suitcase. Begins tomorrow at the AFI, and runs through October 12. Check the festival guide for complete listings. Single screening tickets are $12, but there are package deals available.
From October 1 through February 12, the Corcoran Gallery of Art is presenting 30 Americans, an exhibit centering around the work of some of the most important African-American artists of the past 30 years. One of those artists, Jean-Michel Basquiat, figures prominently in two films that the museum is programming to coincide with the exhibit. The first of those, which screens this weekend, is Shan Nicholson’s documentary Downtown Calling. The film examines the many intertwining arms of the late 1970s New York art scene, which saw the rise of punk and hip-hop alongside the newly celebrated voices of the artists like Basquiat and graffiti artists. Deborah Harry, one of the most visible figures of the scene in her role as lead singer of Blondie, narrates the film. Nicholson and the film’s producer, Ben Velez, will lead a discussion following the screening.
As amusing viral audio and video snippets spread worldwide faster and faster with the help of the Internet and YouTube, there has been a minor renaissance lately in films that showcase times when memes had to spread organically: There’s the traveling Found Footage Festival, which showcases highlights from the glory days of VHS tape trading. Feature-length documentaries have profiled Jack Rebney (Winnebago Man), whose profane tirades became famous on worn out VHS before hitting YouTube. Resurrect Dead (which we reviewed this summer), is about mysterious street tiles began popping up all over the world in the ’80s and ’90s.
Add Shut Up Little Man! to that list, a documentary about the originators of a series of audio tapes of the same name that began circulating in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Matthew Bates’s film documents the story of Mitch Deprey and Eddie Lee Sausage, two San Francisco roommates who began taping the hilarious shouting matches bleeding through the walls from their alcoholic neighbors. Bate interviews those two along with a number of pop culture figures—cartoonists Daniel Clowes and Ivan Brunetti among them—who were fans of the recordings when they started to work their way around the country.
In 1934, Robert Flaherty made an anthropological documentary about the residents of the Aran Islands, a group of islands in the Galway Bay off the west coast of Ireland. It’s from that film that Mac Dara Ó Curraidhín’s biographical documentary about Flaherty takes its name. Flaherty famously staged a number of scenes in his film for dramatic effect, including one in which a group of fisherman out fishing for shark nearly get lost at sea. Flaherty became a controversial figure due to practices like these, which he also engaged in on his landmark 1922 Nanook of the North, which similarly used scenes of people living more primitively than they actually did during the time that Flaherty was shooting. Ó Curraidhín visits to the locations where Flaherty shot his films. He combines these scenes with interviews of people who knew him, like Cinéma vérité pioneer Richard Leacock, and people who appeared in his films, such as Joseph Boudreaux, the young boy at the center of Flaherty’s 1948 Louisiana Story.
This seems to happen every year. A film comes out that busts Hollywood’s conventional wisdom about what a hit movie can be. So this year, while studio executives are busy looking for another action-heavy, male-centric, based-on-previous-material adaptation/sequel, a witty, modestly-budgeted original comedy by and about women became one of the year’s biggest blockbusters. (Yes, I realize people still insist on referring to this as a Judd Apatow movie because he produced it; but this movie belongs to its female writers and cast, with an assist from Paul Feig in the director’s chair.)
Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo’s script resonates because they’ve written a film filled with characters rather than caricatures. For every riotous gross-out moment like the now notorious dress-fitting sequence, there’s a wonderfully understated complement, like Wiig’s Annie going through the meticulous motions of making a single lonely cupcake and then eating it without a hint of enjoyment. It’s those moments that made Bridesmaids a movie audiences came back to multiple times, a trend that’s sure to continue now that it’s available at home.
Special Features: Both the theatrical version of the film and a longer cut with six extra minutes; a slew of cut and extended scenes; plenty of gag-reel type footage; a making of featurette; and a feature commentary with director Feig, co-writers Wiig and Mumolo, and cast members Maya Rudolph, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey, and Ellie Kemper.
View the trailer: