Movie Review ~ The Act of Killing

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The Facts
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Synopsis: A documentary which challenges former Indonesian death-squad leaders to reenact their mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers.

Stars: Anwar Congo, Herman Koto, Syamsul Arifin

Director: Joshua Oppenheimer

Rated: NR

Running Length: 115 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Between 1965 and 1966 more than 500,000 Indonesian men, women, and children were killed by members of death squads tasked with clearing Indonesia of communists.  Men that were small time hoods or self-titled gangsters were given full authority to extort information from innocent people before dispatching them in various horrific methods.

These men have never been held accountable for their crimes against humanity so it’s pretty astounding at the chutzpah of filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer to invite these evil-doers to participate in The Act of Killing, a documentary which affords the leaders of the death squads the opportunity to reenact the murders they committed via various Hollywood tropes.  From gangster pics to fantasy epics to musicals, murder, reality, and cinema collide in a film that’s hard to watch but essential viewing at the same time.

This is one film I circled around for quite some time.  I couldn’t bring myself to see it in theaters or take a screening copy for a spin…I knew what was waiting for me and I recognized I had to be in the right frame of mind to take it all in.  So, with the Oscars coming up where this is likely to take home the award for Best Documentary Feature, I knew it was time to see it.

The experience of seeing the film early on a Sunday morning is one I won’t soon forget as the images it leaves behind and the feelings it stirred are not to be forgotten.  The brazen callousness of a swath of misogynistic men is enough to turn even the strongest of stomachs and when you couple it with graphic details of how they achieved their mass genocide it becomes nearly unbearable.

Still, Oppenheimer is unrelenting in pushing the limits of what the audience can stand.  It’s not that the film is graphic in a bloody sense but that it’s graphic in its depiction of man’s inhumanity to man.  Hearing men relate the stories of decapitations as easily as if discussing their last trip to an Applebee’s, as an audience member I kept looking desperately for remorse in the souls of these subjects…but there’s none to be found.

Well, almost.  The film’s most extraordinary scene comes near the end when Anwar Congo (who would be called colorful if it wasn’t known he alone killed over 1,000 people) finally seems to get what his actions have caused not only to the dead but to the friends and family that have gone on living.  It’s powerful stuff and though it doesn’t endear us to him in any way, it provides a moment where we can see a crack in a dark veneer.

Truly one of those films you have to be in the right mood to see, The Act of Killing is a one of a kind documentary that may very well deserve the Oscar this year.  Make sure to watch the entire credits to see just how many people worked on this film that chose to be listed as Anonymous.  Remember that these men responsible for so many deaths remain unpunished…and the fear of retribution for those that still live in Indonesia is great. Bravo to them for their contributions on this important piece of filmmaking.

Oscar Predictions 2014

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Hello!

Well, though I always find it difficult to nail down my Oscar selections pre-nomination day because I feel like I’m somehow cosmically jinxing  potential favorites, I’m taking part in The 2014 Oscar Contest over at Film Actually because…well…it’s just the right thing to do 🙂

This being a contest and all I threw in a few dark horse candidates and left out some bigger names just to keep it interesting.  I don’t necessarily think there will be 10 nominees for Best Picture but ultimately I couldn’t make up my mind on which ones to remove from my list…

I hope there are a few surprises tomorrow morning, though….even if it means I lose a few points in the contest 🙂

Below are my predictions for who will go to bed tomorrow night an Oscar nominee…

BEST PICTURE
12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Nebraska
Philomena
Saving Mr. Banks
The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST DIRECTOR
Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Spike Jonze, Her
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
David O. Russell, American Hustle

BEST ACTOR
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Robert Redford, All is Lost

BEST ACTRESS
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Daniel Brühl, Rush
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
James Gandolfini, Enough Said
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
June Squibb, Nebraska
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County

BEST EDITING
Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, American Hustle
Joe Walker, 12 Years a Slave
Christopher Rouse, Captain Phillips
Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger, Gravity
Jeff Buchanan, Eric Zumbrunnen, Her

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine
David O. Russell and Eric Singer, American Hustle
Joel & Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis
Spike Jonze, Her
Bob Nelson, Nebraska

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
Tracy Letts, August: Osage County
Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Richard Linklater, Before Midnight
Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope, Philomena
Terence Winter, The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Broken Circle Breakdown, Belgium
The Hunt, Denmark
The Grandmaster, Hong Kong
The Great Beauty, Italy
The Notebook, Hungary

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Sean Bobbitt, 12 Years a Slave
Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity
Bruno Delbonnel, Inside Llewyn Davis
Phedon Papamichael, Nebraska
Roger Deakins, Prisoners

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Adam Stochausen & Alice Baker, 12 Years a Slave
Judy Becker & Heather Loeffler, American Hustle
Catherine Martin & Beverly Dunn, The Great Gatsby
Jess Gonchor & Susan Bode, Inside Llewyn Davis
Michael Corenblith & Susan Benjamin, Saving Mr. Banks

BEST SOUND MIXING
Captain Phillips
Gravity
Inside Llewyn Davis
Lone Survivor
Rush

BEST SOUND EDITING
All is Lost
Captain Phillips
Gravity
Lone Survivor
Rush

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Catherine Martin, The Great Gatsby
Patricia Norris, 12 Years a Slave
Daniel Orlandi, Saving Mr. Banks
Michael Wilkinson, American Hustle
Mary Zophres, Inside Llewyn Davis

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Alex Ebert, All is Lost
Thomas Newman, Saving Mr. Banks
Steven Price, Gravity
John Williams, The Book Thief
Hans Zimmer, 12 Years a Slave

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
20 Feet from Stardom
The Act of Killing
The Crash Reel
Stories We Tell

The Square

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
The Croods
Despicable Me 2

Frozen
Monsters University
The Wind Rises

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
Pacific Rim
Star Trek: Into Darkness

BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
American Hustle
Dallas Buyers Club
The Lone Ranger


BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Amen”, All is Lost
“Let It Go”, Frozen
“The Moon Song”, Her
“Ordinary Love”, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
“Young & Beautiful”, The Great Gatsby