Very good films including award winners arrive in town, but also one of the worst of the year

Josh Brolin with Kate Winslet, Tom Hollander and Toni Servillo are prominent in the new films this week


If you follow the movie awards, there are important films for you that have just arrived in town. The Great Beauty has already won two big ones and is an Oscar contender. The Past is by a director who won an Oscar two years ago. Kate Winslet and her new film Labor Day both had Golden Globe nominations. Five shorts nominated for an Oscar are playing. I don’t expect That Awkward Moment to win anything, except perhaps a Razzie.


Here’s the list:

The Great Beauty:  4 stars

The Past:   3 ½

Oscar Shorts:  cumulative 4

VanCity extras: Last Detail/Arctic Defenders

Empire of Dirt:   3 ½

Labor Day:  3

That Awkward Moment:  1


THE GREAT BEAUTY: And what could Marcello Rubini have been like many years later? He was the journalist writing up gossip and living the good-times or La Dolce Vita in Fellini’s portrait of Rome 50 years ago. Paolo Sorrentino’s elegantly beautiful  new film gives us Jep Gambardella and in effect an update on the city.  He came to Rome about 40 years ago, wrote one novel and was sucked up by the nightlife. “King of the socialites” one character calls him. He’s a celebrity journalist and, on the occasion of his 65th birthday and the death of a friend, he muses on what he’s done with his life. What’s happened to his artistic ambitions? He can’t even explain, until the film’s very end, why he’s not written another novel.


It’s a dark view of a morally empty life but, presented as it is to the rhythm of many parties, the picture is alive with energy and oddball scenes. A nude performance artist, another who “lives on vibrations” but can’t explain what that means, a bustling botox clinic. Jep realizes it’s all trivia but can he pull himself out? Toni Servillo (best known to us through Il Divo and Gomorrah) is casually magnetic as the now-self-doubting social lion. The film won big at the European Awards and the Golden Globes and has an Academy Awards nomination. It’s long (142 minutes) but always engaging. (Park Theatre) 4 out of 5

THE PAST: The revelations, twists and unexpected plot complications just keep on coming. While that’s engrossing to follow, it’s also a bit damaging.  What starts as a real story becomes weaker towards the end, still watchable but also clearly a writer’s construction. This is the latest from Iran’s Asghar Farhadi who’s divorce drama, A Separation, won an Academy Award two years ago.


He’s continuing on the same subject but much differently and now in France. An Iranian (Ali Mosaffa) arrives to finalize the divorce his wife wants. She’s played by Bérénice Bejo, who you’ll remember from The Artist, for which she had an Oscar nomination, also two years ago. She’s got a new man in her life, two children from a previous relationship and a volatile nature, which won her an acting award at Cannes. A lot of ill-feeling comes out in a steady trickle through these 2 hours and 10 minutes. At times it plays like a mystery novel; much of the time it’s a drama of family dysfunction and most of the time it’s an ever-deepening psycho-drama. No deeper meaning though, except perhaps that no matter where you are, it’s hard to shake off your past. (International Village) 3 ½ out of 5   

OSCAR SHORTS:  The VanCity theatre again lets us see the hardest to catch Academy Award nominees. The animated shorts start Feb. 11; these are the Live Action shorts, five little dramas ranging from seven to 30 minutes and interestingly enough, all from Europe. Once again there’s evidence here, in varying degrees, that you don’t need a long movie to tell a complete story.  

HELIUM, from Denmark, is a moving story of a dying boy in hospital comforted by  a janitor’s fantasy stories about a land called Helium and the airship that will carry him there.

THE VOORMAN PROBLEM, from England, is a star-studded but funny trifle based on part of a David Mitchell novel. 

Martin Freeman (The Hobbit) is a psychiatrist who gets into a verbal sparring match with an inmate who’s got everyone else convinced he’s a god. He’s played by Tom Hollander currently on movie screens in The Invisible Woman. Pleasantly droll humor.

JUST BEFORE LOSING EVERYTHING, from France, is a very tense story of a woman trying to escape an abusive, potentially violent, husband. Sharp direction, realistic ado at the supermarket where she works and real menace when he shows up with an apparently innocent request.

THAT WASN’T ME, from Spain, is a complete, compact movie, even more harrowing than Rebelle (War Witch) about child soldiers in Africa. A couple of aid workers are taken prisoner by a war lord and his young army and subjected to intimidation and violence. The scenes are expertly visualized and the difficulty of forgiveness becomes the main theme.

DO I HAVE TO TAKE CARE OF EVERYTHING, with typically Finnish humor, is a very funny chaser about a family hustling to get ready and get to a wedding on time. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong, in just seven minutes. 

More in New Movies

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More streaming ideas take you to Brazil, low-life China and two Jesse Eisenberg films

As well as a cleverly-plotted trip to Barcelona thanks to Netflix

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Some modest recommendations and stay for the last one, an alarm about what has happened to the internet.
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