Film Preview: THE CONTENDERS (MoMA’s Film Series at the Hammer Museum)

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by Tony Frankel on December 6, 2014

in Film,Theater-Los Angeles


For the past seven years, the Film Department of New York’s Museum of Modern Art has scrutinized releases, searching for the select few films from the previous 12 months which qualify for the end-of-the-year screening series known as The Contenders. Whether mainstream movies, independents, foreign-language films, documentaries, or art-house sensations, this intelligently and brilliantly curated multi-flavored program offers films that resonate far beyond a film festival appearance or theatrical release (if they manage to find their way to a commercial screen at all). From structure to subject matter to language, the multi-factor importance of these movies has them presciently endorsed for their lasting impact on the cinematic art form.

Fortunately, L.A.’s Hammer Museum is in partnership with MoMA’s renowned exhibition. Beginning Dec.8, 2014, and running through Jan. 13, 2015, a stellar line-up of ten films will be shown at the Hammer on the big screen, often accompanied by intimate conversations with actors and filmmakers. Discover why these prestigious museums believe that these influential, innovative films will stand the test of time. Whether bound for awards glory or destined to become a cult classic, each film is a contender for lasting historical significance.

No need to listen to the PR hype machines, cull through reviews, or ask friends for advice. Based on previous selections, The Contenders is the most trustworthy source for the must-see films of the year. Whether controversial, frustrating, exhilarating, inspiring, or all of the above, these pictures are perfect for the average filmgoer or any true cinephile. By supporting this program, it’s hopeful that the Hammer will one day be the size of MoMA’s program—which includes almost 30 films this year.


SNOWPIERCER (2013) South Korea, Czech Republic, USA, France. Directed by Bong Joon-ho. Courtesy of Radius TWC

Monday, December 8, 2014 at 7:30 pm
2013 | South Korea/Czech Republic/USA/France | 126 min | Dir. Bong Joon-ho

Snowpiercer_poster“Bong Joon-ho’s epic adventure describes an impending ice age caused by human hand, whose last survivors are left circling the earth in a nonstop express train. The rich are in the front carriages and the poor—from whose perspective the story is told—at the back. If you walk along a moving train from back to front, you end up traveling faster than the train itself relative to the Earth. This is the dynamic force upon which Bong’s film thrives: there’s only one direction in which this revolt can go and it’ll be doomed to failure if its speed doesn’t exceed the reaction. With its impressive cast (including Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Song Kang-ho, Octavia Spencer, and John Hurt) breathtaking artificial landscapes, fantastic make-up, over-the-top décor, fresh, witty dialogue, and a healthy portion of humor, Bong gives back to cinema what the Lumière brothers themselves already used to impress their audiences: the sheer force of the machine” (Berlinale)

A Q&A with actor Ed Harris follows the screening. Director Bong Joon-ho will share a video message.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014 at 7:30 pm
2014 | Canada | 139 min | Dir. Xavier Dolan

mommy-posterPerhaps the least shocking thing about the work of 1989-born Quebecois director Xavier Dolan is it’s contemporary visual and linguistic fluency. From the “Instagram” formatting to the up-to-the-nanosecond slang, his latest film continues to rock the staid foundations of cinematic auteurism (as acknowledged by the jury at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival who honored him alongside fellow innovator, Jean-Luc Godard). What does, and has shocked since his debut film I Killed My Mother (2009), is his ability to intuit, shape, script and direct fully-formed complex women characters on screen. Taking nothing away from his brilliant collaborators (actors Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clement and Antoine-Olivier Pilon) who bring a ferocity and determination to their roles, it is Dolan’s stunning insight that truly mesmerizes. Layered with a soundtrack that is both current and un-ironically 90’s-retro, Mommy triumphantly confirms the arrival of a new (20-something!) master.

A Q&A with director Xavier Dolan follows the screening.

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obvious child still

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 at 7:30 pm
Obvious Child
2014 | USA | 90 min | Dir. Gillian Robespierre

obvious child posterA girl walks into a bar… and starts telling jokes about her vagina and her boyfriend. It turns out the joke’s on her, since he’s been sleeping with her friend and takes advantage of her public, extremely off-color verbal antics to dump her. Basting in misery (she’s also about to lose her job) and booze (a gay wing-man on hand to enable), she attempts to find solace in family, friends, more stand-up and ultimately a sloppy hook-up. What comes next (no spoilers here) represents a brave new frontier in comedy, and director Gillian Robespierre tackles it head on with side-splitting results. Featuring a star-making lead performance by Jenny Slate, who allows herself to laugh along with the joke-called-life. Truly a “choice” comedy.

A Q&A with Jenny Slate follows the screening.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014 at 8:00 pm
2014 | USA | 123 min | Dir. Ava DuVernay

selma-posterTowering figures stand on the shoulders of many, and in Ava DuVernay’s remarkable second feature we witness a moment in history where one man’s greatness was lifted up by the courage and sacrifice of a community and ultimately, a country. Though he is a pivotal figure in the history of The United States, there have been relatively few cinematic explorations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and work. David Oyelowo’s breathtaking incarnation of Dr. King is a revelation, and no narrative film has so richly succeeded in illuminating the critical network of colleagues, activists, and admirers that enabled his successes. Highlighting the intimacies and heartbreaks of his marriage to Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo) and the covert war waged by the US Government against the civil rights leader, Selma joins a short list of essential films exploring American history.

A Q&A with director Ava DuVernay follows the screening.

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Thursday, December 18, 2014 at 7:30 pm
2014 | USA | 117 min | Dir. Dan Gilroy

nightcrawler-posterDan Gilroy’s debut film takes the viewer deep into nocturnal Los Angeles and into the world of his singular creation, freelance videographer Louis Bloom. As played by an electric Jake Gyllenhaal, Louis is opportunistic, intelligent, and a sociopath. The film is a commentary on the ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ ethos of contemporary television journalism and an intense character study of a unique twenty-first century creature who lives on the fringe of society until he discovers a path to power in the media world. Rene Russo shines as a new producer whose ethics have been corroded by her profession and who meets her match (and then some) in the mercurial Bloom. Gilroy, inspired by the work of pioneering photographer Weegee, creates a memorable tableau of Los Angeles as a back lot of grisly crime scenes and shady operators. Nightcrawler noir not to be missed.

A Q&A with writer/director Dan Gilroy and actor Rene Russo follows the screening.

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The Imitation Game Still.

Monday, January 5, 2015 at 7:30 pm
The Imitation Game
2014 | Great Britain/USA | 113 min | Dir. Morten Tyldum

The Imitation Game - PosterAlan Turing, the pioneering British mathematician who cracked Nazi Germany’s Enigma code and helped win World War II, gets the deciphering treatment himself in the new biopic The Imitation Game. Norwegian director Morten Tyldum’s film, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, examines Turing’s personal and professional struggles as a brilliant but aloof man and a closeted homosexual at a time when being gay was a crime in England. “The disturbing, involving, always-complex story of British mathematician Alan Turing is a tale crafted to resonate for our time, and the smartly entertaining The Imitation Game gives it the kind of crackerjack cinematic presentation that’s pure pleasure to experience.” (Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times.) “It’s all anchored in a storming performance from Cumberbatch: you’ll be deciphering his work long after the credits roll.” (Time Out, London.)

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Tuesday, January 6, 2015 at 7:30 pm
2014 | USA | 114 min | Dir. Laura Poitras

CITIZENFOUR-POSTERIn early 2103, Oscar-nominated filmmaker and erstwhile Homeland Security watchlist designee, Laura Poitras was working on the third in a what was to be a trilogy on the ramifications of post-9/11 wars and policies when she received encrypted emails from an anonymous source identified only as “citizen four.” What followed proved to be an unveiling of covert surveillance on a previously unimaginable scale, and a massive news story. The central protagonist was an American freelancer for the NSA named Edward Snowdon. Poitras first exposed his face to the world, through a short video statement released in tandem with initial articles by journalist Glenn Greenwald. What was not exposed at that time was just how incredibly articulate and charismatic a figure Snowden is, nor the full scale of the real-life thriller that the release of the documents created. There is more tension in the eight days spent in a small hotel room in Hong Kong than in the sweeping arcs of most political thrillers in contemporary cinema today. Essential viewing for anyone concerned with the implications of a “security-society” as well as lovers of great documentary filmmaking.

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The Theory of Everything Still

Wednesday, January 7, 2015 at 7:30 pm
The Theory of Everything
2014 | USA | 123 min | Dir. James Marsh

The Theory of Everything Poster“Professor Stephen Hawking knows more than most of us — about the universe, yes, but also about how to live a full life in it. This remarkable chronicle of one of the greatest minds of our time is also the story of an unstoppable spirit. Young Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is both brilliant and awkward as a Cambridge graduate student. Even as his ideas about theoretical physics and cosmology challenge his peers and his teachers, he struggles to find his place. Just as he’s beginning to show flashes of a quick-witted charm, he meets Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). Although her intellect is merely sharp rather than intimidating, she can more than hold her own with Hawking, and they fall in love. Director James Marsh has shown a knack for telling remarkable true tales in documentaries like Project Nim and Man on Wire. Here he crafts The Theory of Everything as, above all, a love story. Stephen and Jane are a unique couple—bright, curious, thoroughly unconventional. When Stephen begins to show symptoms of motor neuron disease, he and Jane both tackle the challenge with exceptional strength. Redmayne (Les Misérables) gives a gripping performance as Hawking. His physical transformation is on par with those of Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot and Mathieu Amalric in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Redmayne immerses himself not just in the detail of Hawking’s changing body but also in the character of a man fighting that change. As his ideas expand to encompass all of time and space, his physical abilities contract. To watch how he and Jane contend with both limits and limitlessness is to witness a truly remarkable marriage.” (Cameron Bailey, Toronto International Film Festival.)

A Q&A with actor Eddie Redmayne follows the screening.

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Thursday, January 8, 2015 at 7:30 pm
2014 | USA | 165 min | Dir. Richard Linklater

boyhood-poster“In 2002, Richard Linklater started constructing a fictional story centered on a six-year-old boy named Ellar Coltrane. For 12 years, Linklater, Coltrane, actors Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette and several nonprofessionals (including the director’s daughter Lorelei) got together once a year, working out a loose storyline and incorporating his young star’s experiences into the mix. Stepdads come and go; ditto a girlfriend. Time is marked by fluctuating weights and heights, as well as a jukebox’s worth of pop songs. Not much happens…just life, in all its messy glory. A boy becomes a man before one’s very eyes. The result is nothing short of a masterpiece, an extraordinary collaborative gamble that succeeds in charting the rocky terrain of childhood like no other movie” (David Fear, San Francisco Film Festival, 2014). Boyhood received unanimous acclaim from film critics, with a “certified fresh” score of 99% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 209 reviews.

A Q&A with director Richard Linklater follows the screening.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015 at 7:30 pm
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
2014 | USA | 99 min | Dir. Ana Lily Amirpour

a_girl_walks_home_alone_at_night_posterThis super-stylish and spellbinding Persian take on the vampire genre doubles as a compact metaphor for the current state of Iran. Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut feature guides us on a dreamlike walk on the wild side, into the nocturnal and sparsely populated underworld of “Bad City,” an Iran of the mind that nevertheless rings true. In a cool and brooding scenario that involves just a handful of characters, an alluring female vampire stalks potential victims with a judgmental eye—but isn’t immune to romantic desire when it presents itself in the form of a young hunk who’s looking for a way out of his dead-end existence. With to-die-for high-contrast black-and-white cinematography and a sexy cast that oozes charisma, horror has seldom seemed so hot. (In Farsi with English subtitles.)

A Q&A with director Ana Lily Amirpour follows the screening.

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The Contenders Film Series
Hammer Museum’s Billy Wilder Theater
10899 Wilshire Blvd. in Westwood
screenings December 8, 2014 thru January 13, 2015
for more info, call (310) 443-7000
$15 General Admission per screening
$10 or free depending on membership level
for member info, call (310) 443-7050
purchase tickets in person at the Welcome Desk during Museum hours
or on line at the Hammer Museum

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