AFI FEST 2011 announces award winners, closes with ‘Tintin’

AFI FEST Director Jacqueline Lyanga presents the honors.

AFI FEST 2011 presented by Audi wrapped up Thursday with the awards brunch and closing-night gala screening of “The Adventures of Tintin” by Steven Spielberg.

AFI FEST Director Jacqueline Lyanga announced the award winners at a short ceremony in the Roosevelt Hotel’s Blossom Room, which was the venue for the first Academy Awards presentation on May 16, 1929.

There were encore showings at the Egyptian Theatre of some of the award-winning films. The festival bestows audience, jury and critics’ prizes. More than 150 filmmakers from around the world presented their work this year.

Breakthrough (award accompanied by a $5,000 cash prize): “With Every Heartbeat” by Alexandra-Therese Keining (Sweden)

New Auteurs: “Bullhead” by Michaël R. Roskam (Belgium)

World Cinema: A tie between “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” by David Gelb (US) and “Kinyarwanda” by Alrick Brown (US/Rwanda)

Young Americans: “Wuss” by Clay Liford (US)

There were encore showings Thursday at the Egyptian.

This year, AFI FEST debuted its New Auteurs Critics’ Prize selected by Justin Chang (Variety), Mike Goodridge (Screen International), Mark Olsen (Los Angeles Times) and Jean Oppenheimer (American Cinematographer).

Grand Jury prize: “The Loneliest Planet” by Julia Loktev (US/Germany)

Special Jury prize: “Attenberg” by Athina Rachel Tsangari (Greece)

Acting prize: Matthias Schoenaerts of “Bullhead” (Belgium)

A jury chooses the top live-action and animated short films. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences recognizes each winner as a qualifier for the Academy Awards. To read the list and see more highlights from the fest, visit:

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‘Nightmare Alley’ quick hit

“Nightmare Alley” plays today, Nov. 9, at 4:30 p.m. at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood as part of AFI FEST 2011.

Nightmare Alley/1947/Twentieth Century Fox/110 min.

Lest you think classic noir is limited to private-eye offices, police stations and penthouse apartments, director Edmund Goulding’s flick transports us to the seedy world of traveling carnivals. Tyrone Power is Oscar-worthy as Stan Carlisle, a charismatic hustler looking to break into the big time. The excellent cast includes Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray, Helen Walker, Ian Keith and Mike Mazurki. Based on William Lindsay Gresham’s novel.

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‘Le Cercle Rouge’ is an icy thriller by an immaculate artist

“Le Cercle Rouge” plays Saturday, Nov. 6, at 4 p.m. at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood as part of AFI FEST 2011.

Le Cercle Rouge/1970/EIA, et al/140 min./in French with English subtitles

By Michael Wilmington

Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-1973) was, in some ways, the Vermeer of the heist movie. A master of classic noir and neo noir, Melville was a cool, sure-fingered expert and an immaculate artist. Like Vermeer, his pictures were deceptively simple and utterly haunting, punctilious and mysterious. And, like Vermeer, he didn’t leave many behind him.

One of the greatest of all Melville’s films, with one of his most spectacular heists, is “Le Cercle Rouge,” a neo-noir which has, as its centerpiece, a spine-chilling depiction of a jewel robbery at the Place Vendome in Paris.

The job is pulled off with rare skill by three strangely honorable thieves, played by three international film stars: ex-convict Corey (played by Alain Delon), escaped prisoner Vogel (Gian Maria Volonté) and ex-cop Jansen (Yves Montand).

Alain Delon

The movie is about how these three come together, how they execute the robbery, and how they’re finally driven apart – largely through the quiet skill and determination of their relentless police antagonist. Deceptively lumpish, bourgeois-looking Inspector Mattei is played by comedy star André Bourvil.

Mattei is keeping watch over his prisoner, Vogel, on a train journey. But Vogel slips out of his handcuffs and escapes from the sleeper car of the speeding train. Mattei is humiliated, then obsessed with finding Vogel. The broken handcuffs become a psychological link.

Mattei has an invaluable source in Santi (François Périer), a double-dealer and underworld mole, who looks like a ferret in a suit. Santi owns a nightclub that seems to specialize in crooked assignations and ersatz ’50s American movie musical numbers, set to a cool jazzy score by Éric Demarsan. (The chorus girls in those numbers are almost the only women we see in the movie, except for one faithless lover and one cigarette girl.)

The title “Le Cercle Rouge” refers to a story of Buddha, who supposedly draws a red chalk circle and explains to his students that those who are destined to cross paths will do so within the circle, no matter what.

Melville made and released Le Cercle Rouge in 1970, one year after making his World War Two French Resistance masterpiece, “Army of Shadows” (1969) and two years before making his last film (with his last heist), the flawed “Un Flic” (Dirty Money), starring Delon, Catherine Deneuve and Richard Crenna. “Le Cercle Rouge” was his last masterpiece.

Back to Vermeer for a moment. There is one vital quality of Vermeer’s that Melville misses completely, probably never tries for: warmth. Melville’s films noirs are cold, especially when cinematographer Henri Decaë (of Melville’s “Le Samourai”) shoots them. His crooks are cool. They speak little, wear raincoats and fedoras, and smoke cigarettes, like Bogie. His cops are icy. His world is dark: noir to the brim.

Why was Melville so obsessed with criminals, with heists and with heist movies? Maybe because this underworld reminded him of the world that was the French Resistance, in which he had fought during the war.

And maybe it’s because of the one that got away. In the ’50s, Melville was hired to direct the movie that became one of the greatest of all heist movies (François Truffaut’s choice as the greatest of all film noirs), 1955’s “Rififi.” Melville was later fired and replaced by Jules Dassin, who chivalrously refused to take the job without Melville’s consent (which Melville gave). [Read more…]

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‘Eyes Without a Face’ gives us Guignol, Givenchy and grace

Eyes Without a Face/1960/Champs-Élysées Productions/88 min./in French, with English subtitles

I can’t think of many movies that combine Grand Guignol and Givenchy. So I’m grateful for 1959’s “Eyes Without a Face,” which critic Pauline Kael described as: “perhaps the most austerely elegant horror film ever made.”

Edith Scob stars as the disfigured daughter in "Eyes Without a Face."

It plays at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5, at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood as part of AFI FEST 2011.

Noir and horror, both rooted in German Expressionism, overlap from time to time – the dramatic compositions, intense interplay of light and shadow, and the examination of the human mind’s most nefarious corners.

Director Georges Franju’s film, based on a Jean Redon novel, invites us into a frightening, yet poetic, world in which guilt has tipped Docteur Génessier (Pierre Brasseur) into a spiral of insanity. Loaded with darkness and visual style, “Eyes” counts in my book as a borderline noir.

The doctor’s daughter Christiane Génessier (Edith Scob) was disfigured in a car accident and lives as a virtual prisoner, hiding behind a tasteful mask and swathed in glimmering Givenchy. Because he was driving the car, the doctor can’t forgive himself. As any devoted and deranged dad would do, he, along with his secretary Louise (Alida Valli), kidnaps young women who resemble poor Christiane, drugs them and attempts to use their faces as replacements. Christiane could then assume a new identity. As you might expect, this is a pretty tall order.

Louise (Alida Valli) does the dirty work.

While Louise isn’t quite a femme fatale, she’s still pretty tough. In the opening scene, for instance, we see her singlehandedly dragging a body from a car and dumping it in the river. And she’s always so charming, not to mention impeccably dressed, when she lures new victims, offering them little favors like a place to stay or great seats at the theater.

But the doctor starts to be outnumbered. The police (Alexandre Rignault, Claude Brasseur, Pierre’s son) get curious and so does Christiane’s former fiancé(François Guérin). More importantly, though, Christiane eventually revolts.

“Eyes Without a Face” left its mark on pop culture inspiring, for instance, Billy Idol’s ballad by the same name from the 1984 album “Rebel Yell.” The film also functions as a political parable with Docteur Génessier representing the evils of fascism. His daughter, though at first subdued, finally throws off her shackles, as in the scene where she releases the snarling, caged dogs and walks along with a dove on her wrist.

It is one of many surreal images, recalling perhaps a De Chirico painting of a deserted piazza, beautifully crafted by Franju, set off by Maurice Jarre’s chilling classical-style music.

Despite his talent, Franju (1912-1987) and his films have not been widely appreciated. Having made his mark with documentaries, he later specialized in poetic thrillers, romances and fantasies (“Judex,” “Thérèse Desqueyroux”). He was also a co-founder, with Henri Langlois, in 1936, of the Cinémathèque Française.

Here’s hoping Saturday’s screening will earn Franju a few more fans.

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Free stuff from FNB: Win ‘The Killers’ two-disc set

Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner

Screening at AFI FEST 2011 is one of the all-time great film-noir works: “The Killers.” Based on an Ernest Hemingway short story and directed by Robert Siodmak, the movie instantly established stardom for Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner. “The Killers” will screen at 4 p.m. on Nov. 7 at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

The winner of November’s reader giveaway will receive a copy of Criterion’s DVD edition of “The Killers,” which includes the Siodmak version and Don Siegel’s 1964 made-for-TV feature, starring Lee Marvin, John Cassavetes, Angie DickinsonRonald Reagan and Clu Gulager. You can read more about the special features here.

(The winner of the October reader giveaway is Ruslan, congrats to the winner and thanks to all who entered!)

To enter the November giveaway, just leave a comment on any FNB post from Nov. 1-30. The winner will be randomly selected at the end of the month and announced in early December. Include your email address in your comment so that I can notify you if you win. Your email will not be shared. Good luck!

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On the radar: Battle of the Blondes begins, AFI fest kicks off, poets ponder Los Angeles noir

Marilyn in "The Asphalt Jungle" tops the TCM list.

One more reason to love Turner Classic Movies: The network has compiled a list of 10 favorite movie moments featuring Marilyn Monroe. The list comes as TCM gears up for its Battle of the Blondes this month, which kicks off Nov. 2 with a Marilyn Monroe double feature.

First on the fave moments list is Marilyn looking up at Louis Calhern in the classic noir “The Asphalt Jungle” from 1950 directed by John Huston. Third on the list is her sexy walk in “Niagara,” Henry Hathaway’s 1953 Technicolor noir. (“Niagara” and 1959’s “Some Like It Hot” by Billy Wilder are tonight’s double bill.)

Throughout November, TCM will celebrate Hollywood’s greatest blondes. Each Monday and Wednesday night’s lineup will feature two blondes going head-to-head in a pair of double features, including Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield on Nov. 2, Veronica Lake and Lana Turner on Nov. 7, Judy Holliday and Jean Harlow on Nov. 9, Marlene Dietrich and Ursula Andress on Nov. 14, Carole Lombard and Mae West on Nov. 16, Janet Leigh and Brigitte Bardot on Nov. 21, Betty Grable and Doris Day on Nov. 23, Julie Christie and Diana Dors on Nov. 28 and Grace Kelly and Kim Novak on Nov. 30.

Leonardo DiCaprio

Best of the fest: The AFI FEST 2011, the American Film Institute’s annual celebration of international cinema from modern masters and emerging filmmakers, starts Nov. 3 with Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Noir gems include “Eyes Without a Face,” “The Killers,” “Nightmare Alley” “Le Cercle Rouge,” “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” and “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” Topping my new-viewing list is: “Miss Bala,” “Art History,” “Carnage,” “Shame,” “Kill List” and “The Artist.”

The festival runs through Nov. 10 in Hollywood and I look forward to covering it.

Lines to remember: Continuing through Nov. 13, the Los Angeles Poetry Festival is hosting Night and the City: L.A. Noir in Poetry, Fiction and Film. There are readings, screenings and discussions in various locations. I’ve marked my calendar for the Raymond Chandler open reading on Nov. 6 in Hollywood.

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