Author Adam Kuntavanish

Cinema transcends boundaries of time and space and thought and emotion; at its best it communicates the experience of being truly alive. I've been transfixed by the material ghosts of the movies since an early age, and I can't seem to shake them. Since reading and writing and talking about films are the next best things to watching them, criticism became a natural fit. Whether new or old, foreign or domestic, mainstream or cult, all movies are grist for my mill. Be forewarned, I'm an inveterate list-maker, so look out for rankings, topics, and opinions of all kinds. The AFI's got nothing on me.

Reviews AGANTUK 002.jpg
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The Stranger is Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s final film and a fitting capstone, overflowing with the curiosity and humanist ideals he espoused throughout his nearly fifty-year film career. At seventy years old, Ray had perfected his own version of “late style” (like Carl Dreyer, Luchino Visconti, and Yasujiro Ozu before him), a lucid …

Special Feature sara-driver (1)
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Sara Driver is the crucial, and practically unique, link between the gritty No Wave aesthetic of the 1980s New York underground art scene and the grounded surrealism of Luis Buñuel and David Lynch. Unlike those more masculine cinematic surrealists, who indulge in Freudian impulses and sexual drives to subvert such established …

Special Edition chef
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Food is as much a constant for humanity as sex and death, but far fewer films seem exclusively dedicated to the subject. Maybe this is because food can take on so many connotations and serve so many varied functions, from production through consumption, that the contours of a “food genre” can be hard to pinpoint…

Rewind Review birth-1
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About one-third of the way through Jonathan Glazer’s Birth comes its narrative and stylistic turning point: for a nearly three-minute unbroken long take, protagonist Anna (Nicole Kidman) gradually realizes that she believes in ten-year-old Sean’s (Cameron Bright) claim that he is her husband reincarnated. Having tardily made her way into a packed concert hall with her new fiance (Danny Huston) after Sean’s adamant refusal to recant his story, Anna stares past the camera as Wagner swells on the soundtrack, representing the roiling emotional turmoil beneath her placid, fragile gaze. That single shot — audacious, severe, just as aural as visual, and entirely reliant on Kidman’s focused, interiorized performance — encapsulates the film’s overall strengths and weaknesses. Engaging yet self-consciously bravura, the oppressive zoom frames the lead actress’s face and lets duration and minute gesture relay what meaning it contains. It’s a moment that may try one viewer’s patience while piquing another one’s, becoming emblematic of the film as a whole.

Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema eroica1
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The title of Andrzej Munk’s second feature, Eroica, translates as “heroism,” a universal human theme that’s typically treated in historical narratives with nationalistic reverence. A depiction of life under Poland’s occupation by the Germans during World War II and in the aftermath of the failed Warsaw Uprising of 1944 might be an opportunity for such hagiography, but the dual segments directed by Munk and written by Jerzy Stefan Stawinski revel in turning the expected on its head. Rather than celebrating a rugged individual ready to die for his country, the film’s first half features a craven but clever opportunist unwillingly dragged into a logistically-strained alliance with the Hungarian army; in the film’s second half, the romanticized image of a lone hero escapee from a POW camp is revealed as a convenient fiction perpetuated to boost and maintain morale. Eroica proves its worthiness to be included in the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s program “Masterpieces of Polish Cinema,” curated by Martin Scorsese, by treating its nation’s recent history and starkly one-sided international relations with poignant irreverence.

Top Ten ensembles-1
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As a follow-up to my list of this topic i 2011, I’m taking stock of the world of acting in the past year in cinema. Nearly every awards body gives out acting awards, but only a handful recognize a Best Cast or Best Ensemble of the year, as distinct from a more all-encompassing Best Picture. Two notable films from the year, Gravity and All is Lost, capitalize on their dual or solo protagonist(s) as the only characters, but nearly every other example relies on the interplay between recognizable stars, character actors, newbies, and extras. Effective ensembles of 2013 came under directors known for orchestrating, even indulging, an unwieldy stable of actors (David O. Russell, Martin Scorsese, Alexander Payne, Woody Allen), as well as filmmakers more known for focused tone in both acting and visuals (Steve McQueen, Denis Villeneuve, Sofia Coppola). The year was also notable for some relatively sensitive coming-of-age films involving large casts of young people and fun entries in ensemble-heavy franchises like Fast & Furious and The Hobbit. Next week I will unveil my own choices, but until then please comment on your own favorites.

Top Ten amhus-1
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As a follow-up to my list of this topic in 2011, I’m taking stock of the world of acting in the past year of cinema. Nearly every awards body gives out acting awards, but only a handful recognize a Best Cast or Best Ensemble of the year, as distinct from a more all-encompassing Best Picture. Two notable films from the year, Gravity and All is Lost, capitalize on their dual or solo protagonist(s) as the only characters, but nearly every other example relies on the interplay between recognizable stars, character actors, newbies, and extras. Effective ensembles of 2013 came under directors known for orchestrating, even indulging, an unwieldy stable of actors (David O. Russell, Martin Scorsese, Alexander Payne, Woody Allen), as well as filmmakers more known for focused tone in both acting and visuals (Steve McQueen, Denis Villeneuve, Sofia Coppola). The year was also notable for some relatively sensitive coming-of-age films involving large casts of young people and fun entries in ensemble-heavy franchises like Fast & Furious and The Hobbit. Next week I will unveil my own choices, but until then please comment on your own favorites.

Reviews threematch-1
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The phrase “three on a match” refers to a wartime superstition in which the glow of a match lit long enough for three soldiers would alert the enemy and spell doom for one of the trio; the film Three on a Match introduces then playfully undercuts such hokum, explaining that match manufacturer Ivar Keuger invented and exploited the belief to sell more matches. Such juggling of tones, shifting from melodrama to lightheartedness and back again, exemplifies director Mervyn LeRoy’s and writer Lucien Hubbard’s breakneck tale of three schoolgirl friends (played in childhood by Anne Shirley, Betty Carse, and Virginia Davis) who take very different paths to adulthood and finally reunite by chance in the then-contemporary New York of 1932.

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