agnes varda

Film picks: “Faces Places” and “The Death of Stalin”

Octogenarian Agnes Varda teams with young artist JR for a mobile art project while Armando Iannucci, the creator of "Veep," applies his satirical skills to Soviet Russia

Who doesn’t love Agnes Varda? Anybody who isn’t thoroughly charmed by the venerable, diminutive legend of French filmmaking probably isn’t worth knowing. If any 88-year-old can be said to be precocious, it’s her, and her latest (please, not her last!) effort, the Oscar-nominated “Faces Places,” is perhaps her most endearing and thought-provoking movie yet.

Some of the energy in “Faces Places” doubtlessly derives from Varda’s co-director, the visual artist known as JR. His signature project involves wheatpasting enormous photographs in public places, to incongruous effect. (He once made the Louvre pyramid seem to disappear.) In the latest iteration of this method, he and Varda drive around France in a van shaped like a camera and that serves as a giant photo booth: people climb in, get their picture taken, and a giant blow-up prints out from the side of the vehicle.

Agnes Varda, JR, and a goat in “Faces Places”/Courtesy NW Film Center

The title begins to make sense now, even if the rhyme is better in the original French: “Visages Villages.” In various hamlets, factories, and farms, ordinary folks are mythologized by having enormous images of themselves slapped onto the buildings they inhabit. Or used to inhabit–in one instance, a mural of long-dead miners transforms their onetime lodgings into a testament. In another, a giant goat head pays homage to the power of horns. Three woman married to workers at the port of Le Havre get their due by staring down at the dockyard from a stack of dozens of shipping containers.

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The Oscars are dying: So what?

To remain relevant, the Academy Awards need to re-examine what it is they're celebrating

The Oscars are dying. So what?On March 4, the Motion Picture Association of America held the 90th Academy Awards ceremony. You may not have heard about it, since reportedly nobody really cares about the Oscars anymore. As someone who religiously watches, and even generally enjoys, Tinseltown’s annual festival of self-love, I find myself, perhaps surprisingly, not the least bit perturbed.

This year’s telecast drew record low ratings, down a whopping 20% from last year’s already dismal numbers. Since the Nielsen people began tracking viewership in 1974, this was the first time that fewer than 30 million people tuned in. That’s right, more people saw a naked man streak past host David Niven (and, in an even worse crime, “The Sting” top “The Exorcist” for Best Picture) than saw Frances McDormand’s stirring call for gender equity in Hollywood or Helen Mirren ride a Jet-Ski.

The proffered explanations for this phenomenon are legion. Televised events, from the Super Bowl to the Grammys, don’t capture eyeballs the way they used to. (This may be partially because of the difficulty cord-cutters have in actually watching plain old over-the-air television broadcasts.) The nominated movies these days don’t have the box office appeal of stuff like “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” or “Titanic” (which was the winner at the most-watched Oscar broadcast). Regular folks are turned off by liberal, America-bashing, rape-culture-critiquing, non-cis-white-male movie stars, according to some.

While the executives at ABC and the various movie studios fret about the increasing irrelevance of this once-iconic pop-culture ritual, the proper response from anyone who cares about film as art should be a hearty, “Who cares?” It’s not so much that I wouldn’t care if the Oscar completely vanished from the face of the Earth—that would be a genuine loss. But if “The Oscars,” as in the globally notorious spectacle, as long and glitzy as a limo with a hot tub, were to shrink back down to a life-size event, that would be a good thing, even if it ended up being shown on some third-tier streaming service instead of a broadcast network owned by the world’s most powerful media conglomerate.

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