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OSCARS DEATH RACE: Sarah D. Bunting wins the Oscars Death race as she surveys the race for Best Documentary Shorts

"The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement." A salute to the many men and women who took enormous risks for the movement without needing name recognition, "TBoB" introduces us to James Armstrong, a barber in his eighties, on the eve of Barack Obama's election. You can't necessarily separate the man from his relationship to the fight for integration (his sons integrated Graymont Elementary in Birmingham), but I'd rather have seen a tighter focus on the man himself, letting those stories come through him. The talking heads and footage of the inauguration made the film a little flat overall.
  • By Sarah D. Bunting
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  • February 26, 2012 4:24 PM
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SCORE CARD UPDATE: Sarah D. Bunting wins the Oscars Death Race

[EDITOR'S NOTE: It's over! With her inclusion of Best Documentary Shorts in this series, Sarah D. Bunting of Tomatonation.com has succeeded in watching every single film nominated for an Oscar this year. Congratulations, Sarah, for winning the Oscars Death Race. You can catch her down at the local bar treating herself to a pleasant alcoholic beverage, celebrating her hard-won victory. For more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here. And you can follow Sarah through this quixotic journey here. ]For more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here. The adventure begins.
  • By Sarah D. Bunting
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  • February 26, 2012 3:40 PM
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  • 4 Comments

OSCARS DEATH RACE: Surveying the race for Best Picture

NYMag's David Edelstein posits that "The Artist" is a lock for the gold on Sunday, and I don't disagree, with the conclusion or the reasoning. It's a weird year for the Best Pic slate, with a lot of seriously-flawed-at-best material; it might come down to the least of nine evils.
  • By Sarah D. Bunting
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  • February 26, 2012 6:00 AM
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  • 2 Comments

OSCARS DEATH RACE: Surveying the race for Best Director and Cinematography

Perhaps I should have given each of these categories its own piece, but I don't think you can separate them, and also, we're running out of time here. Let's take cinematography first.
  • By Sarah D. Bunting
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  • February 26, 2012 5:24 AM
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OSCARS DEATH RACE: Surveying the races for Best Original and Adapted Screenplay

Adapted Screenplay is an interesting case, at least to me: what's getting voted on, exactly? Is it the screenplay qua screenplay? Or is it the skill of the adaptation? I realize I shouldn't think too deeply on these criteria, but the category this year points up the distinction I've just mentioned, for two reasons: 1) the source material is quite varied (two novels, a play, a non-fiction book, etc.); and 2) two adaptations of wildly popular book series didn't get nominated. More on that in a sec; first, the nominees.
  • By Sarah D. Bunting
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  • February 26, 2012 5:07 AM
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OSCARS DEATH RACE: A SEPARATION

"A Separation" opens with an argument in front of a judge. Simin (Leila Hatami) wants a divorce from Nader (Peyman Maadi), which he will grant, albeit reluctantly, and custody of their sixth-grade daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi, writer/director Asghar Farhadi's daughter), which he won't. Simin wants to take Termeh out of Iran (she doesn't say why, but we're to assume the reason is…Iran), but Nader won't leave his elderly father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi), who has Alzheimer's and needs constant care. Simin doesn't really want to divorce Nader, we sense, but when the bluff is called, she doesn't blink, and moves to her mother's house; Termeh, invited to go with her, elects to stay with her father.
  • By Sarah D. Bunting
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  • February 25, 2012 10:43 AM
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  • 0 Comments

OSCARS DEATH RACE: Surveying the Race for Best Live-Action Short

Pentecost. I feel like we get one of these every year, a mini roman a clef about a grade-school kid in which the central gag doesn't quite merit the attention, and Pentecost is this year's. The pep talk by the priest is cute, in theory, but the whole thing needs to move much faster, not least the climactic scene (it would still fall flat, but less so).
  • By Sarah D. Bunting
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  • February 25, 2012 9:36 AM
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OSCARS DEATH RACE: TREE OF LIFE

It's it fair to review a work that functions, as Roger Ebert said in his piece on "The Tree of Life," as more of a prayer than a story? Can we measure this intensely personal, individual film with traditional yardsticks? I believe it is; I believe we can. Some of the positive reviews of "The Tree of Life" seem defensive to the point of stridency, meeting charges of "but there's no narrative!" with a carpet-bombing of superlatives, and implying between salvos that such an unconventional and daring form of filmic storytelling has no use for bourgeois adjectives like "linear" and "coherent." Well…actually, on the one hand, I agree, in the sense that Malick has his ways of doing things and thinking about stories and connecting (or shuffling) dots, and that peculiar Malickian blend of compulsive control and sticky viscera either hits you or it doesn't, so no review per se is going to change your mind.
  • By Sarah D. Bunting
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  • February 24, 2012 12:35 PM
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  • 0 Comments

OSCARS DEATH RACE: BULLHEAD

"Bullhead" isn't about what you think it's about at first. You start out with a voice-over about things from the past coming back; then you move into a plot about the Flemish "hormone mafia," and whether cattle farmer Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts) is going to involve himself in a deal to improve the weight of his cows. Or so you think. You also see a series of moody shots of Jacky in his bathroom, staring, sitting immobile in the shower, then injecting himself with testosterone, so then you think the movie is about that -- that perhaps he's preparing for a fight of some kind? Then Jacky attends a meeting set up by a smarmy vet (Frank Lamers), and recognizes the boss's flunky Diederik (Jeroen Perceval), although both men play it like they've never met. There is A Vibe between them, and you think, "Ohhh, okay. It's about that." And it is. And…it isn't.
  • By Sarah D. Bunting
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  • February 24, 2012 4:00 AM
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OSCARS DEATH RACE: Surveying the race for Best Animated Short

Dimanche/Sunday. It seemed promising despite the crude animation; the sound design is witty, and it started out as a sort of fantasia on how children perceive things. But it keeps killing animals off horribly for no reason, and the surrealism comes and goes when it's convenient. A clearer visual style might have helped, but I don't think it knows what it's trying to say.
  • By Sarah D. Bunting
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  • February 23, 2012 7:48 AM
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  • 0 Comments

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