Film

Countdown to the Oscars! Plus: Cinequest and new flicks

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Important: the Oscar broadcast starts at 4pm on Sunday on ABC. If tradition holds, the ceremony won't actually begin until a little later, but if you want to soak up the full awkwardness of the red carpet, with its "Who are you wearing?" and its reporters mistaking Denzel Washington's daughter for his wife (true story), you will want to tune in on time. (If you're a true fiend, E! starts their red-carpet coverage at 2:30pm.)

As far as Oscar winners go, I thought I had it figured out, but really ... it's anyone's game, unless your name is Daniel Day-Lewis. Fingers crossed for local filmmaker Sari Gilman to win Best Documentary Short for her Kings' Point.

This week, I took a look at San Jose's Cinequest festival (zombie lovers, get on this one!) Among the new releases, the Rock goes undercover for the DEA to clear his son's name in Snitch, and Keri Russell battles supernatural suburban invaders in Dark Skies. Reviews below the jump of mystical drama Bless Me, Ultima; Oscar-nominated doc The Gatekeepers; and Werner Herzog's latest doc, Happy People: A Year in the Taiga.

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Sundance 2013: a local tragedy, an ongoing romance, and top picks

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Ryan Coogler's Bay Area story Fruitvale picked up the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize; it is, of course, based on the life and death of Oakland's Oscar Grant, a young man gunned down by a BART cop on New Year's Day 2009. I emerged from this important, wonderfully-made debut like everyone around me in the sold-out theater — in devastated tears.

Lead actor Michael B. Jordan is absolutely gripping as Oscar — no surprise for anyone who saw him as Wallace on the first season of HBO's The Wire, or as one of Josh Trank's accidental superheroes in 2012's surprisingly gritty Chronicle. Coogler is a skilled director; the way he slowly builds toward his story's inevitable conclusion is worthy of praise.

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Is the trailer for 'The Internship' the most cringe-worthy of all time?

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See video

The answer is yes. "THE INTERNSHIP stars Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn as salesmen whose careers have been torpedoed by the digital world. Trying to prove they are not obsolete, they defy the odds by talking their way into a coveted internship at Google." Is this movie from 1998? Eeugh.

Sundance 2013: love and confusion

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I only got to experience half of this year's US Dramatic Competition films (unfortunately, missing David Lowery's buzzed-about Ain't Them Bodies Saints, which shared the Best Cinematography Award with Andrew Dosunmu's breathtaking Mother of George).

Still, among the films I saw, I was pleasantly surprised by James Ponsoldt's brutally poignant coming-of-age drama The Spectacular Now. With a straight-ahead script that avoids clichés, the film benefits greatly from a pair of standout performances by its young stars. Miles Teller, from John Cameron Mitchell's Rabbit Hole (2010) and Craig Brewer's underrated remake of Footloose (2011), perfectly embodies a high-school asshole, while Shailene Woodley (so good in Alexander Payne's 2011 The Descendants) is spot-on as the class loner.

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Sundance and Slamdance 2013: powerful docs

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Scroll on up Pixel Vision for Jesse Hawthorne Ficks' previous Utah festival reports.

In recent years, Sundance has become well-known for its strong documentary offerings — to the point of overshadowing its dramatic films. And with good reason, when docs like Martha Shane and Lana Wilson's After Tiller are among the selections.

The film follows the four remaining doctors in the United States who continue to perform third-trimester abortions; it's a decidedly direct character study that uncovers the complex and difficult choices these physicians go through on a daily basis. (Not to mention the element of danger they face, as the title's reference to the murder of Dr. George Tiller suggests. With that in mind, there was a protective police presence at all of After Tiller's Sundance screenings.) The doc's impact didn't end when the lights came up; for days after the screening, I found myself drawn into fascinating conversations with folks who were eager to discuss their feelings about the film and the issues it explores. Read more »

No talking

Vintage stars shine at Silent Winter

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM The 2013 San Francisco Silent Film Festival isn't until July, but the fest's Silent Winter offshoot offers a day packed full of classic delights to tide over its legions of fans until summer. The Castro Theatre plays host to four features and one shorts program, all of which boast live musical accompaniment.Read more »

Heat of the moment

Local retrospectives spotlight Japan's innovative Art Theater Guild

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Silents are golden

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The 2013 San Francisco Silent Film Festival isn't until July, but the fest's Silent Winter offshoot offers a day packed full of classic delights to tide over its legions of fans until summer. Sat/16, Castro Theatre plays host to four features and one shorts program, all of which boast live musical accompaniment.

Silent Winter's earliest (1916) and latest films (1927) are both buoyed by charismatic leading ladies: Marguerite Clark, in J. Searle Dawley's Snow White, and Mary Pickford in Sam Taylor's My Best Girl. Clark, who found early fame as a Broadway star, was already in her 30s by the time film acting became a viable career option. No matter — she's believably girlish as the princess with "skin white as snow," hated by her jealous stepmother, whose own beauty comes courtesy of witchcraft. (Dig the proto-Witchiepoo who helps the conniving queen in her various evil schemes, and her giant kitty helper, too.) A teenage Walt Disney saw the film in 1917 and made animation history with the same story 20 years later — though his version of the fairy-tale heroine lacks Clark's easy effervescence.

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Sundance 2013: championing Campion

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For more Sundance 2013 reports, go here, here, here, and here.

Easily the greatest screening event at this year's Sundance Film Festival was Jane Campion's multi-part miniseries Top of the Lake, a co-production of the Sundance Channel, BBC Two, and UKTV in Australia and New Zealand.

Though it was made for TV, this 353-minute, Twin Peaks (1990) meets Silence of the Lambs (1991) extravaganza was shown on the big screen, which gave it even more impact. Not that it needed much help: when intermission came at the end of the third episode, audience members filed out for lunch with similar (stunned, shocked, obliterated) expressions on their faces.

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Sundance 2013: what's NEXT?

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Earlier fest reports here, here, and here.

At Sundance 2013, no other category could compete with the NEXT programming. NEXT was initiated in 2010; its aim is to highlight "pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling. Digital technology paired with unfettered creativity proves the films selected in this section will inform a 'greater' next wave in American cinema."

Matthew Porterfield's I Used to Be Darker showcases Ned Oldham (brother of indie fave Will Oldham) as a father-husband-musician whose teenage daughter starts to drift away as his marriage dissolves. Wonderfully awkward and trying moments arise from every suburban-hipster angle, making Darker not only a disturbing blueprint of divorce among the indie-rock generation, but — with three fully performed songs — a reminder of why so much music from this time period remains utterly relatable. (Clearly, not everyone agrees; I overheard a group of SLC locals calling Darker their "least favorite movie of all time.")

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