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Take Shelter & The Interrupters

Two award shows to go, people—and then the season is over. Can you believe the Oscars used to take place in late March. That’s one of the changes of the last decade that I actually like. February is the right time—it was a good move. Anyway, my official picks in the top categories will be posted at some point this weekend before the show. Be sure to keep checking back to get the full skinny. And don’t forget about the oft-dubbed “dressed-down Academy Awards” show on Saturday night—the 2012 Independent Spirit Awards. This is the one that sometimes gets it right when Oscar gets it wrong. My favorite example is the year 2002. As The Big O was heaping praise on “Chicago”, “The Hours” and “The Pianist”, I knew damn well that Todd Hayne’s “Far from Heaven” was the very best film of the year. As soon as I saw it I realized I wouldn’t see anything better(although Pedro Almodovar’s “Talk to Her”—his masterpiece—ended up being a close second on my 2002 Top Ten). But Oscar, despite nominating Julianne Moore for Best Actress(she lost to Nicole Kidman for “The Hours”), failed to nominate the film for Best Picture or Director. Those bastards! “Far from Heaven” lost all 4 of its Academy Award nominations that night. But the evening before…the stars aligned. FIVE Independent Spirit Awards—including Best Picture, Best Director for Todd Haynes and Best Actress for Julianne Moore. At least some form of justice had been served. Let’s move to the present day…               Just about everyone is expecting “The Artist” to have a glorious night on Sunday. It also has 5 nominations(including Best Picture)from the Spirit Awards…but it has some serious competition on Saturday. Checking in with 4 nominations(including Best Picture) is critical darling “Drive”. And matching “The Artist” with a total 5 nominations(including Best Picture)is Jeff Nichols’ disturbing “Take Shelter”. It’s ironic to have a film in “Take Shelter” where we are supposed to ponder whether Michael Shannon’s character of Curtis is crazy or not—because I’ve often wondered whether Michael Shannon is crazy, or not. Marvelous actor, but like Christopher Walken before him, where sanity is concerned—you’re never quite sure. Curtis seems to have a great life. Beautiful, adoring wife(Jessica Chastain, in her 37th role of 2011), solid job, adorable daughter(who is hearing-impaired). But Curtis starts having visions. Something is coming, and he’s not sure what. But Curtis eventually starts believing in it enough to risk everything he has. His quest to refurbish and expand a simple storm shelter in his backyard has Job-like consequences. And you’ll be filled with unease right through its stunning conclusion. This is a fine film with some exceptional performances that got completely skunked when it came to Oscar nominations. Maybe Saturday night’s ceremony will prove to be the charm.               Next, I’ve seen a bunch of fantastic documentaries this past year, including 3 of the 5 Oscar nominees(still need to catch “Pina” and “Undefeated”). Of all the excellent non-fiction work that was passed over when the Academy award nominations were announced, perhaps the outcry was the most vocal for Steve James’ stirring “The Interrupters”. I mean this is the very same Steve James who created the lauded and beloved “Hoop Dreams” in 1994. His failure to get an Oscar nomination that year led to a revision of the entire nomination process. They couldn’t possibly ignore him again. Well, they did. But the Independent Spirits did not. “The Interrupters” takes us to the mean streets of Chicago, where an alarming number of young African-Americans fall victim to violence. Many fail to reach their 30th birthday. And they are not only victims, but perpetrators too—allowing gang grudges and revenge shootings to rule their days. There is too much pride to back down. And that’s where CeaseFire, a band of violence interrupters, comes into play. These men and women insert themselves right into some of these confrontations and try to divert the anger. All products of the same streets of turmoil as the youth they are trying to save, they attempt to help these young people chose non-violent paths. I doubt you’ll meet a more compelling presence, than interrupter Ameena Matthews. She’s the daughter of slain Chicago gang leader Jeff Fort, who we are told is street crime royalty. Ameena, on the other hand, has turned her life around after earlier heading towards her father’s road of destruction. She is calm, bright and exacting. Soft when she needs to be, but always ready to sharply remind her charges that she’s seen it all. You will not forget this woman.                These 2 films were certainly not the only ones that Oscar chose to ignore in 2011. But they are two of the most egregious examples. And if you hurry, you can watch them both on DVD or pay-per-view before the big Awards weekend.     Grade for both films:   A-                        

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4 comments on “Take Shelter & The Interrupters

  1. Oy! For a second there I thought you meant the Sarah Palin Undefeated movie. Ugh. Heart beating again.

    • Imagine that…having to say Palin and Oscar in the same breath! No, it’s the football one—which JUST opened. Seeing all of the docs AND foreign films has become increasingly difficult each year. That being said, how excited am I to watch HBO’s “Game Change” next month, where apparently MOST of the focus is to be on the train wreck that is Ms. Sarah. Julianne Moore is said to be smashing. Terrific book, too. ML

  2. We just watched Take Shelter and really enjoyed the creepiness. You are so dead on about the Michael Shannon/Walken comparison. He does a brilliant prohibition agent in season 1 of Boardwalk Empire (just finished that on netflix, worth watching) and you can see a lot of the same technique he’s using in Curtis. I hope to see him more in upcoming projects. I think the film did a great job in creating mood and telling the story.
    They blurred the lines of reality and I like that it wasn’t clean cut. Kudos to the director for not spoon feeding us.

    • He’s fantastic on “Boardwalk Empire”…I watched that entire first season. “Take Shelter” is definitely creepy, and I’m glad you appreciated the Walken comparison…they have similar borderline “nuts” personas in a great number of their roles. For fun you should re-watch 1992’s “Groundhog Day”. Shannon plays one half of a giddy married couple that Bill Murray helps out at one point. I realized it was him probably a couple of years ago when giving it another look on cable. Seeing him as a young man was quite a trip after getting used to him in the type of characters he plays now. Just shows once again how some of these so-ordained “overnight discoveries” have been busting their asses for decades! ML

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