Monday, February 2, 2015

Oscars 2015: who will win best documentary?

Riveting Edward Snowden exclusive Citizenfour is the frontrunner among a crop of documentary nominees that – for once – cater more to the head rather than the heart
• Who will win best supporting actress?
Oscar documentary nominees
Clockwise from centre, Finding Vivian Maier, The Salt of the Earth, Citizenfour, Last Days in Vietnam, Virunga.
Oscar documentary nominees

With best foreign-language film having been partly reformed in recent years – more on that in a later column – best documentary is the fringe category for which the Academy most regularly takes flak. Last year’s victory for 20 Feet from Stardom (a perfectly good film) over The Act of Killing (an imperfectly great one) was a typical one: formal risk-taking rarely trumps emotional uplift, no matter how many precursor awards point in the opposite direction.
This year, however, it seems the Academy’s documentary branch has largely voted with their heads over their hearts, compiling a list low on peppy crowdpleasers and omitting the film many thought might be the sentimental favourite: Steve James’s affecting but hardly inspired Roger Ebert tribute Life Itself. Though some US critics have taken this as an affront to their own profession, they should be appeased if – as looks increasingly likely – voters side with the film that has dominated the awards circuit thus far.
That’d be Citizenfour, Laura Poitras’s riveting, in-the-moment study of former CIA system administrator Edward Snowden and his fire-starting role in the National Security Agency surveillance scandal. Poitras’s connection to the material could hardly be more direct: the film-maker (a former nominee in this category for her Iraq doc My Country, My Country) was invited by Snowden himself, along with Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill, to collaborate in his planned data leak, and the film that has resulted from their covert hotel-room consultations is a journalistic coup of the first order. It’s arguably a triumph of content over delivery, but that hasn’t prevented Citizenfour – which boasts Steven Soderbergh among its executive producers – taking top honours from the International Documentary Association and every major US critics’ group, or becoming easily the highest grosser of the nominees.

While Citizenfour has the topicality vote all wrapped up, Virunga is the category’s most rousing feat of contemporary activism. The first feature-length effort from the splendidly named British documentarian Orlando von Einsiedel, the film depicts the range of forces threatening the survival of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park, from the violent impositions of rebel military forces to the more insidiously alarming presence of British oil company SOCO International. The Academy is often sympathetic to environmentally themed documentaries – The Cove and An Inconvenient Truth both won in the last decade – and this Bafta nominee has the urgent structure of a thriller. Surprisingly, it’s the only film in the category to have also scored a nomination from the Producers’ Guild of America.
It’s been 40 years since the Academy last rewarded a documentary concerned with the Vietnam war, with the ordeal finally drawing to a close, and the wound still a fresh one on voters’ collective conscience. This doesn’t seem likely to be the year they reopen it, but Last Days in Vietnam makes a decent case for them to do so. Directed by Rory Kennedy – incidentally, the youngest daughter of outspoken Vietnam war opponent Robert F Kennedy – the film is a marvel of archival gathering, showcasing astonishing footage of Saigon’s fall that does much to contextualise America’s collective memory of the events at hand. Firsthand recollections from American and Vietnamese participants, Henry Kissinger among them, supplement this calmly reconstructed history; its slight favouring of the US experience certainly won’t harm its chances.
Two contrasting portraits of photographers made their way into the category; pundit logic dictated that only one would make the cut, but Academy voting doesn’t allow for slot-based strategy. The more widely predicted of the two actually has the lower profile: Finding Vivian Maier, John Maloof and Charlie Siskel’s fascinating exposure of the titular street photographer and her clandestine career. It’s a melancholy, fascinating study of artfully concealed artistry that perhaps errs a little on the side of self-conscious myth-building; some critics have questioned the moral responsibility of Maloof (the chief owner and curator of Maier’s work) to a deceased subject who clearly never wished for this level of attention. Also nominated for the Directors’ Guild award (alongside Virunga and Citizenfour) and the Bafta, it’s been popular on the festival circuit since 2013, but is probably a shade too low-key to grab the win.
A little heavier on spectacle is The Salt of the Earth, a glorious tribute to Brazilian photojournalist Sebastião Salgado that sees Wim Wenders extending his run of form in the documentary format. Co-directed with Salgado’s son Juliano, the film – winner of the Special Jury Prize in Un Certain Regard at Cannes – is a more traditional effort than Wenders’ much-garlanded Pina, but no less dazzling. Beginning with Salgado’s name-making images of the Serra Pelada gold mine and expanding outwards to reflect on a larger career, Wenders hits on novel methods of demonstrating his subject’s visual fluency, even through potentially conventional talking-head passages. As a formal feat of filmmaking, it’s by far the most impressive of the five. Never acknowledged by the Academy for his narrative work, Wenders has now racked up three nominations in this category; if voters are in a lyrical mood, and fancy recognising a worthy career in the process, he could be the spoiler.

Hey where’s ... The Overnighters? Jesse Moss’s taut, tough survey of migrant oil-field workers in North Dakota inspired critical comparisons to Steinbeck in its moral weight and complexity, and cracked the Academy’s initial 15-film shortlist. It deserved to go further.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

ALERT: You Have Fewer Than 3 Days to Get Your 'Love Actually' Fix

Photo: Karl Lagerfeld
Chanel can make anything—even walking barefoot through grime-y city streets—seem chic. Case in point? Karl Lagerfeld's spring 2015 campaign for the maison, starring Gisele Bündchen.

Photo: Karl Lagerfeld
Lagerfeld photographed Bündchen wandering the deserted streets of Saint Germain-des-Prés, pausing at iconic locations like...

Photo: Karl Lagerfeld
Café de Flore, a spot you'll find packed with fashion editors during Paris fashion week.

Photo: Karl Lagerfeld

Photo: Karl Lagerfeld

Photo: Karl Lagerfeld

Photo: Karl Lagerfeld
and the Seine.

Photo: Karl Lagerfeld
This marks Bündchen's second campaign coup for the spring 2015 season. She's also fronting Stuart Weitzman’s spring ads.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Proof That 2015 Will Be the Year of the Vadjacent

Michelle Monaghan, Kendall Jenner, Rihanna; Getty Images
February 26, 2012. Does that date ring any bells for you? No? February 26, 2012 was the day that Angelina Jolie extended a pointed leg and announced to the world that there would finally be light on the one place that, previously, sun simply did not shine. And in the nearly three years since Jolie exposed the most northern region of her rectus femoris, legions of red-carpet walkers have tried to emulate (and improve upon) her stellar example. Yes, if all goes according to plan, it's safe to say that 2015 is shaping up to be the Year of the Vadjacent™.

Rita Ora, Jaime King, Halle Berry; Getty Images
What is the Vadjacent, you ask? Obviously, it's the scintillatingly sensitive sliver of skin that annexes the inner thigh to the, well. It's also a crevice that, bathing-suit season aside, was generally considered unsuitable for public consumption. Want more? Did you know that the Vadjacent is one of the only parts of the female anatomy that hasn't yet had its 15 minutes (see: The Year of the Nipple)? Well, now its time has come.
But be warned: Pulling off the Vadjacent is no rookie movie. The Vadjecent requires a talented waxing professional, a healthy aversion to underwear, and more than a pinch of old-fashioned chutzpah. And while there may be some contention among the ranks as to whether Kendall Jenner deserves to be in the highest echelon of models, it's pretty clear she's a certified VIP: Vadjacent Instructing Professional (evidence above).

Isabeli Fontana, Jessica White, Cara Delevingne; Getty Images
Other VIPs worth noting: Jessie J, who expertly exposed the stretch of skin from her kneecaps to her navel at the VMAs; Rita Ora, who routinely rocks the look with aplomb; and me, Justine Harman, a journalist, a friend, an only half-decent dog mother, a wife, and an early adopting, yet timid, Vadjacent enthusiast.
2015 is looking up, isn't it?

The author at her 2013 wedding; Abby and Lauren Ross

Saturday, November 29, 2014

What Ferguson Means for Black Women

Photo: Lesley McSpadden (Getty)On Monday, along with most of America, I waited to hear what the grand jury in Ferguson would decide. But I knew what it would be. I have been down this road before. My breath bated, my chest tight with anxiety, I still hoped that somehow one of us might get justice. That one of our lives would matter before the courts of the country that we labored to build.
When the decision came down that they declined to indict, I was buying Christmas tricycles for my twin nephews. They are two. They are happy babies and they remind me so much of their father and myself when we were children. And I cannot wait to be there for every first, every trial, every error; I cannot wait to watch them grow from boys to men. And what should be one of the greatest joys of my life brings me one of the biggest pains of my life: One day, their mother, my mother and myself will have to tell them about police brutality in this country, how and why they are targets, and of their unique place in this American horror story.
It is left up to us because their father (my brother), Clinton Roebexar Allen, was shot seven times and killed by a Dallas police officer, Clark Staller. As with Wilson, a grand jury declined to indict Staller, despite five eyewitnesses’ testimony, despite Clinton being shot in the back and under his arm while his hands were up, despite mishandling of evidence, despite all of these things. This is not standard procedure, state or federal, for a jury to decline to indict. In fact, in 2010, of the 162,000 federal cases that were prosecuted, only 11 juries issued a “no-bill.”
Photo: A protestor arrested at the 1964 Rochester race riots.
Only four percent of police-involved shootings are even reported to the FBI’s database. And even in these instances, which are self-reported by law enforcement and therefore probably do not even represent the full extent of the problem, reports show that over a seven-year period ending in 2012, a white police officer killed a black person nearly two times a week. Take Dallas, for example, where my brother was killed. When my mother’s organization, Mothers Against Police Brutality, and others in Dallas started pulling data and public records requests from the police department, we found that in 40 years since the last officer was indicted in Dallas (for shooting a 12-year-old Latino boy in the back of the head), close to 180 black and brown people had been killed at the hands of the police. In other words, we should not expect justice. And it is these facts and this history that black women have to face when rearing our boys. They can be killed, at any time and we are not to expect justice. Not even a trial.
When these men are killed, it is left to us women to pick up the pieces. To hold our families together. To be mother and father, aunt and nephew, brother and sister to the children that are left behind.
And we are tired.
We are tired of hearing the rhetoric that these men are killed because they come from broken homes. Clinton’s father was present in his life. Michael Brown’s father was present in his life. Trayvon Martin’s father was present in his life. Half of American marriages end in divorce; if our homes are broken, that means your homes are probably broken too. Black men are routinely given harsher and longer prison sentences than white men. These absences leave not just a psychological and emotional impact, but a financial one as well. Few families in America are able to make it on one salary, but that is what black families are expected to do when their co-breadwinners are taken.
Photo: Medgar Evers’ funeral
We are tired of having to teach them: “If you are stopped by the police, put your hands on the wheel. Do not unexpectedly reach for anything. Speak calmly. Please come home in one piece.” I do not know a black man that has not been given this talk, because being black is enough to put their lives in danger. My uncle, a respected professor and anesthesiologist, drives a Lexus. He is routinely stopped by white cops who consider all those things to be “suspicious.” This is supposed to only happen to black men when their pants are sagging and they listen to rap music.
What are we to do? What do we do when there is an implicit racial bias against people of color that police forces in this country refuse to address and change in their officers? What do we do when the police shoot our 12-year-old babies because they think they are armed, 20-year-old men? For the people that say that we should not protest, we say, it is the only choice that we have left. We cannot call the police, we cannot go to court and get justice, so we are in the streets, protesting. The value of black lives has been totally denied through the “respectable” and “civil” conduits that white people have the privilege to trust, rely on and believe in.
Photo: A woman protests in Ferguson.
Women carry the weight and responsibility of these families being dismantled. In this renewed engagement of feminism, those who stand and identify with feminism must support this too. I am a woman and my right to live freely with my family intact has been violated. I and so many other women are left with a challenging task. We, the survivors, are left to rear these beautiful boys into fearless and brave men, but our country is asking us to teach them to be diminished and fearful in the face of the police because they might be killed.
A black mother told me last night, “I want a white mother to know what I feel. I want her to sit up like me, and wonder when her child doesn’t come home, if he’s been shot by the police. I want her to feel the terror of knowing that the love of your life, your child, can be taken from you because of the color of their skin.” We want our boys to have a chance.
Ferguson is a wake up call. Black mothers are being told to prepare their sons for second class citizenship. We cannot do that. We cannot go quietly into the night on this one. And we need other mothers, other women that love their families and have the privilege to know that their sons, if stopped by the police, will make it home, to stand with us. Because we have been left no choice but to stand.

The Best Black Friday Sales to Shop Now

Photo: Getty Images
Black Friday is one of the most terrifying exciting shopping days of the year. For those of us who aren't brave enough to camp out for Walmart televisions, today is the day we can finally shop the fall winter collections at 40 percent off. Here, the best Black Friday deals—and the even lazier Cyber Monday steals—to take advantage of now.
Nasty Gal
On Black Friday, Nasty Gal is offering 30% off select black items (get it?!) online, and up to 50% off clothes of other colors starting Monday.
Lust Covet Desire
Lust Covet Desire is offering 30% off all full-priced and sale items Monday with the promotional code ALLBLACK30 with free shipping on domestic orders over $50. Brands include 3.1 Phillip Lim, Ryan Roche, and Assembly New York.
Net-A-Porter: Black Friday markdowns at the original luxury e-tailer begin November 28, and Cyber Monday sales on December 1.
Equipment and Joie
From Wednesday to Monday, all full-price and sale Joie, Equipment, and Current/Elliott items will be 25% off in store and online.
Avenue 32
Monday, December 1 is Avenue 32’s global 24-hour flash sale, with 40% off selected items.
Aritzia’s Black five-day sale means up to 60% off fall, winter, and holiday styles both in store and online Wednesday through Sunday. We thought it couldn’t get better, but Monday brings 60% off deals, and adds free shipping.
Giejo swim is offering a site-wide additional 50% off with offer code THANKSGIVING50 at checkout November 27 through December 1.
H&M is offering over a week of sales with pre-Black Friday deals up to 70% off until the 29th in store and online. On Friday, additional deals from $4.95 are offered and value scratch cards will be given to the first hundred shoppers up to $300. Sunday and Monday give online shoppers 30% off their entire purchase and free shipping on orders over $50.
Intermix is making a good thing even better with 30% off already marked down items Thanksgiving through Monday in store and online. Monday brings 20% off full-priced online items and free shipping.
Starting on Friday and ending Monday, all sale items are 50% off the original price in store and online, accessories stores offer the same deals Friday, plus a gift with purchase. Early birds receive 20% off full priced merchandise from 8PM Thursday to 10AM Friday.
Bella Bag
All bags from luxury designers like Céline and Chloe are 50% off Friday through Monday. One shopper will receive a trip for two to New York Fashion Week with their online order delivery.
Sigerson Morrison
Get 30% off full-priced Sigerson Morrison and Belle shoes Thursday through Monday with the promotion code Thanks.
American Eagle
Starting Friday American Eagle Outfitters is offering a free party bus service to shuttle customers between AEO stores and prime shopping destinations around NYC, ending December 20th. While supplies last, AEO and Aerie fleece blankets are included with purchases of $60 or more.
Moda Operandi
Starting Thursday, Moda Operandi is offering up to 50% markdowns. On Monday the site is offering the gift that keeps on giving: a $250 gift card for a future purchase with an over $1000 order and promotional code “Monday.”

Watch Rashida Jones and Jimmy Fallon Take on Holiday Versions of Pop Songs

Photo: NBC
Still curled up in a post-turkey feast food coma? (Us, too.) Well, here's a little something that might perk you up!
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Chanukah, The Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon invited guest Rashida Jones to perform some modern-day takes on holiday songs. But obviously, these aren't your standard Xmas sing-a-longs.
Taking on parodies of everything from Sam Smith's ballad "Stay With Me" to Nicki Minaj's booty popper "Anaconda," it's a holiday medley of epic proportions — and one that we really wish would get some airtime between the usual rotations of "Jingle Bells" and "Feliz Navidad." Our favorite part? The food baby ode to Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass." Sample lyrics: "Because you know I'm gonna gain some weight/gain some weight/(need sweatpants)..."

Monday, October 27, 2014

Suzy Menkes At London Fashion Week: Day Five

With vivid light from a stained glass window illuminating one church wall and organ music coming from the opposite side, young women walked the knave. Their hair was wet and tangled like a drowning Ophelia. Their black dresses and shoes were plain, except for a waft of fluff.
Picture credit: Indigital
The sweet solemnity of the Simone Rocha show was the most romantic vision of womanhood seen in the London spring/summer 2015 shows. Every emotion was there, from sobre moments with chiffon headscarves, as though going to Sunday worship, to wild oriental flowers in lacquer red.
Picture credit: Indigital
"I was thinking so much of ballet," said the designer backstage. And she must surely have been thinking of her own poetic steps: her Irish background, with her grandmother's crochet, worked into the collection; her extended Asian family in Hong Kong; and her step forward as the lone representative of the Rocha family, her father John having retired this season.
But emotion, however heartfelt, is nothing in fashion if you cannot represent that feeling in clothes. And Simone Rocha did not put a fluffy shoe wrong (even if she herself was wearing her signature pearl-decorated slippers).
The fragility of the women in simple nude chiffon dresses with a curving furry hem; the energy in the red florals and polka dots; the lacy, bridal white… All this emotion gathered into perfect modern clothes: decent dresses, tailored coats, often worn over straight trousers and flat shoes. The work on fabrics, which is one of the designer's strengths, made apparently simple pieces special.
Picture credit: Indigital
Simone, who dedicated the show to the late professor Louise Wilson, her mentor at Saint Martins, is a true talent with a sweet, clear voice. London fashion once had a New Romantics phase. Simone Rocha is the post-feminist, twenty-first-century version.