OMAR (Hany Abu-Assad, 2013)
Lincoln Plaza Cinema, 1886 Broadway at 63rd St., 212-757-2280
Angelika Film Center, 18 West Houston St. at Mercer St., 212-995-2570
Opens Friday, February 21
Nazareth-born Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad explores friendship, trust, and young love in occupied Palestine in the taut thriller Omar, the second of his films to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, following 2005’s Paradise Now. Lee Strasberg Institute graduate Adam Bakri makes an impactful film debut as the title character, a serious young man who works in a pita-making shop and climbs over the separation wall every day to meet with his childhood friends Tarek (Eyad Hourani) and Amjad (Samer Bisharat), who are planning on taking action as freedom fighters. Omar also secretly sees Tarek’s sister, Nadja (Leem Lubany), but they are worried about what Tarek might do if he finds out about their burgeoning romance. Shortly after the three friends assassinate an Israeli soldier, Omar is captured and tortured as Agent Rami (Waleed F. Zuaiter) tries to get him to divulge the name of the shooter. But Omar refuses to collaborate until Rami gives him no choice, and even then he thinks he can beat the system. Winner of the Special Jury Prize at the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes, Omar is a tense, powerful tale that doesn’t overplay the political battle between Israel and Palestine (although it’s rather unkind to the Israeli police), instead concentrating on how the seemingly impossible situation affects four young people, all portrayed by first-time actors who show much promise, particularly Bakri, who has a compelling physical presence, and sixteen-year-old Lubany, who has a tender face and mesmerizing eyes. Zuaiter, a Palestinian American who has appeared in numerous English-language films and stage productions and is one of Omar’s producers, plays Agent Rami with a mysterious calm reminiscent of Mandy Patinkin’s Saul Berenson on Homeland, a show in which Zuaiter played terrorist Afsai Hamid in one episode. Regardless of where you stand on the Israel-Palestine conflict in the West Bank, it’s difficult not to get caught up in Abu-Assad’s intricate story.
THE DEPARTED (Martin Scorsese, 2006)
Bow Tie Ziegfeld Theater
141 West 54th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Thursday, February 13, 3:30
Festival runs February 13-14
Based on Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s awesome Infernal Affairs (2002), Martin Scorsese’s relatively faithful remake, The Departed, moves the relentless action and intrigue from Hong Kong to the mean streets of Boston, where it is hard to tell cop from criminal. Just out of the academy, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) rises quickly to detective in the Special Investigations Unit, but he’s actually in cahoots with master crime lord Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Meanwhile, Billy Costigan (an excellent Leonardo DiCaprio), training to become a cop, is sent deep undercover (including a prison stint) to infiltrate Costello’s gang, with only Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Sergeant Dignam (a very funny and foul-mouthed Mark Wahlberg) aware of the secret mission. Sullivan and Costigan are like opposite sides of the same persona; in between them stands Costello — and Madolyn (Vera Farmiga), a psychiatrist who is in a relationship with one and is doctor to the other. As both the cops and the criminals search desperately for their respective rats, no one can trust each other, leading to lots of blood and a spectacular finale. Nicholson has a field day as the aging gangster, chewing up mounds of scenery in his first film with Scorsese, who returned to peak form with his best work since 1990’s Goodfellas. The film was nominated for five Oscars, winning four, for Best Director, Best Film Editing (Thelma Schoonmaker), Best Adapted Screenplay (William Monahan), and Best Picture, while Wahlberg was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
The Departed is being shown on February 13 at 3:30 as part of a two-day salute at the Ziegfeld to the long-running partnership between DiCaprio and Scorsese, including screenings of all five of their collaborations: The Aviator, Scorsese’s examination of Howard Hughes’s (DiCaprio) high-flying and controversial airplane career; Gangs of New York, which pits Amsterdam Vallon (DiCaprio) against Bill “the Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) in the city’s immigrant-heavy Five Corners; Shutter Island, an adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel with DiCaprio as a U.S. marshal; and their latest, the multi-Oscar-nominated The Wolf of Wall Street, in which DiCaprio plays real-life stockbroker Jordan Belfort. DiCaprio, Schoonmaker, and screenwriter Terence Winter will take part in a Q&A with Kent Jones prior to the 7:00 screening of Wolf on February 13.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (Martin Scorsese, 2013)
Opened December 25
Based on Jordan Belfort’s 2007 memoir, The Wolf of Wall Street relates the rise and fall of a fast-talking, high-living stockbroker, played to the hilt by an impressive Leonardo DiCaprio. But Martin Scorsese’s picture, his fifth starring DiCaprio, has trouble walking that fine line between glorifying Belfort’s money, drugs, and women lifestyle and portraying him as a greedy con man who ransacked innocent people’s savings and ruined their lives. In 1987, Belfort gets a job working for rather strange LF Rothschild trader Mark Hanna (Matthew McConnaughey) and immediately gets a taste for the business; however, Black Monday strikes, and he soon finds himself selling penny stocks with a rag-tag group of losers out of a Long Island storefront run by a man named Dwayne (Spike Jonze). But he’s able to excel at the job, taking home big bucks and eventually opening his own firm, Stratton Oakmont, with right-hand man Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). Nearly instant success leads to endless partying, strippers, prostitutes, dwarf tossing, cocaine, ludes, and absurdly lavish expenses that enrage Belfort’s father, Max (a hysterical Rob Reiner), when he goes over the books. But nothing can stop Jordan and Donnie as they rake in the dough and do whatever they want, seemingly without consequence, even when the Feds, led by FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), start sniffing around. Even when it does come crashing down, it still doesn’t seem to have too much of an effect on Belfort and his buddies, who keep feeling invincible.
Written by Terence Winter, who previously celebrated criminals in The Sopranos and currently on Boardwalk Empire — two cable series that deal with the good/evil delineation much better — The Wolf of Wall Street is far too long at three hours, and it features a surprising number of bad continuity and synching edits by longtime Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker. And the soundtrack lacks the usual Scorsese power, found in such films as Goodfellas, which bears a strong thematic resemblance to Wolf. The large cast also includes Jean Dujardin as Swiss banker Jean-Jacques Saurel, Cristin Milioti as Belfort’s first wife, Margot Robbie as Belfort’s second wife, Joanna Lumley as her aunt, Jon Favreau as his lawyer, Jake Hoffman as Steve Madden, Sharon Jones as a singer, Fran Lebowitz as a judge, and private investigator Bo Dietl as private investigator Bo Dietl. The real Belfort, who recently took to Facebook to explain that he is using one hundred percent of his profits from the book and film to pay back the victims of his shady dealings, makes a cameo appearance at the end of the film as an emcee. Despite its drawbacks — even PETA has attacked the film for its treatment of animals — The Wolf of Wall Street nails the feeding frenzy that was the financial fury of the late 1980s, which set the table for future economic disasters.
Nominated for five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director (Martin Scorsese), Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Best Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill), Best Adapted Screenplay (Terence Winter)
12 YEARS A SLAVE (Steve McQueen, 2013)
Opened October 18
Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is an extraordinary cinematic achievement, an epic historical drama that is as much about contemporary issues of race in America as it is about slavery. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a staggeringly rich performance as Solomon Northup, a free man in Saratoga Springs in 1841, a successful carpenter and musician and accepted member of society, living with his wife (Kelsey Scott) and two children in a beautiful home. When Brown (Scoot McNairy) and Hamilton (Taran Killam) offer him a temporary job playing the fiddle in a traveling circus, he is tricked and sold into slavery, auctioned off to the highest bidder by a greedy man with no moral base (Paul Giamatti). Renamed Platt, he is soon working on a New Orleans plantation owned by William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), where he is regularly harassed by John Tibeats (Paul Dano), who is responsible for keeping the slaves in line. When Northup and Tibeats’s battle comes to a head, Ford sells Solomon to Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), a far less benevolent slave owner whose wife, Mary (Sarah Paulson), rules him with an iron fist. As Epps grows a fondness for the slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), who can pick more cotton than any of the others, Solomon starts thinking of a way out, risking his life to regain his freedom and return to his family.
McQueen’s third film, following Hunger, about IRA member Bobby Sands’s prison hunger strike, and Shame, which dealt with severe sex addiction, 12 Years a Slave is a harrowing experience, a very difficult film to watch. McQueen holds nothing back, including unforgettable scenes of brutal torture and psychological and emotional torment. Every moment is nerve-racking, particularly when Solomon is hanged from a tree for an extended period of time, his toes barely touching the ground to keep him from being strangled to death. Ejiofor (Dirty Pretty Things, Kinky Boots) is mesmerizing as Solomon, able to make viewers share his pain with just a glance; McQueen uses his background as an experimental video artist to make unexpected choices that are powerful and unforgiving. The film features numerous outstanding supporting performances, including the brave Nyong’o as the relentlessly brutalized Patsey, McQueen regular Fassbender as the slave owner who thinks he might love her, and producer Brad Pitt as one of the only white men in the South who seems to really understand what is going on. The film was written by novelist and screenwriter John Ridley (Three Kings, Love Is a Racket), who adapted the story from Northup’s 1853 memoir, imbuing it with a freshness and vitality while subtly drawing parallels to the racism that is still prevalent today. Watching 12 Years a Slave isn’t easy, but if you pass it up, you’ll be missing one of the best, and most important, films of this short century.
Nominated for nine Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director (Steve McQueen), Best Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Best Supporting Actor (Michael Fassbender), Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong’o), Best Adapted Screenplay (John Ridley), Best Film Editing (Joe Walker), Best Production Design (Adam Stockhauser and Alice Baker), and Best Costume Design (Patricia Norris)
THE HUNT (JAGTEN) (Thomas Vinterberg, 2012)
58 Park Ave. at 38th St.
Thursday, January 16, $10, 7:00
Series concludes January 22
After losing his job as a teacher and going through a difficult divorce, Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) begins working at a kindergarten in a small, tight-knit community and starts dating a coworker, Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport), but his life quickly hits rock bottom when he is falsely accused of child abuse in Thomas Vinterberg’s harrowing drama The Hunt. Mikkelsen was named Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival for his deeply sensitive portrayal of a gentle man who suddenly finds himself in the crosshairs of virtually everyone in town immediately after little Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), the daughter of his best friend, Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen), claims that Lucas did bad things to her. Grethe (Susse Wold), the school administrator, doesn’t even give Lucas a chance to defend himself before he loses his job and is ultimately arrested, his only supporters being his son (Lasse Fogelstrøm) and his longtime friend Bruun (Lars Ranthe). Mikkelsen (Pusher, A Royal Affair, After the Wedding) goes from utter disbelief to quiet desperation to all-out rage as Lucas, an everyman who can’t believe what is happening to him, not understanding how nearly everyone has turned their back on him, many attacking him in public and private for something that he didn’t do. Dogme 95 cofounder Vinterberg (Dear Wendy, Festen), who cowrote the Cannes award-winning script with Tobias Lindholm (R, A Hijacking), expertly builds the tension as Lucas’s, and the town’s, growing paranoia threatens to explode. He personalizes the drama in a way that avoids blanket statements about child abuse and faulty and repressed memories while instead focusing on how a young girl’s lie can spiral horrifically out of control. The Hunt, which is on the Oscar shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film, is screening January 16 at 6:00 as part of the Scandinavia House series “Nordic Oscar Contenders,” which began January 8 with the Swedish entry for the Academy Awards, Gabriela Pichler’s Eat Sleep Die, and continues January 22 with Iceland’s Of Horses and Men, directed by Benedikt Erlingsson.
Nominated for one Academy Award: Best Foreign Language Film (Denmark)
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2013)
Opened December 6
Over the years, Joel and Ethan Coen have created a slew of offbeat protagonists and antiheroes who trudge through surreal life experiences, from the McDunnoughs in Raising Arizona and Tom Reagan in Miller’s Crossing to the title character in Barton Fink and Anton Chigurth in No Country for Old Men. But they have come up with their most despicable — and most believable — main character in Inside Llewyn Davis. The previously little-known Oscar Isaac gives a career-defining performance as Llewyn Davis, a selfish wastrel who mistreats everyone he meets. A broke singer-songwriter in 1961 Greenwich Village whose former partner (voiced on record by Marcus Mumford) killed himself, Davis loses a mentor’s (Ethan Phillips) cat, curses out his agent (Jerry Grayson), impregnates a married friend (Carey Mulligan), makes fun of the husband’s (Justin Timberlake) new song, avoids visiting his ailing father (Stan Carp), insults a portly jazzman (John Goodman) — essentially, he meets every situation by insulting someone, then turning and walking away, without even the slightest hint of regret. And the beautiful thing is, the Coens aren’t about to offer him redemption. Inspired in part by the life of Dave Von Ronk and with sly references to such other musicians as Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Tom Paxton, Dr. John, Doc Pomus, and Jim and Jean along with music impresario Bud Grossman and Gerde’s Folk City, Inside Llewyn Davis is a bitingly funny black comedy about a nasty man living in his own egocentric world, refusing to share any part of himself with anyone else, through his music or face-to-face, even though people keep giving him opportunity after opportunity. And the audience is in on it too, wanting him to succeed despite his myriad offenses. The soundtrack, overseen by T Bone Burnett, who previously worked with the Coens on O Brother, Where Art Thou? brings it all back home, with such highlights as Isaac’s performance of “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me,” Timberlake, Mulligan, and Stark Sands teaming up on “Five Hundred Miles,” and Timberlake, Davis, and Girls hunk Adam Driver all having fun with an updated version of “Please Mr. Kennedy.”
Nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Cinematography (Bruno Delbonnel), Best Sound Mixing (Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff, and Peter F. Kurland)