Wednesday, March 5, 2014

2013/2014 Post-Award Season Round-Up

Well, the Oscars have officially come and gone, signaling the end of one movie year and the beginning of the next. I finally feel like it's the appropriate time to share my list of the movies that you should have seen/ may have to now wait a bit to see/ might have seen but were dying to know what I thought about said film before you settled on an opinion.  Sure this post is a bit delayed, but really, the holidays are crazy and by January, only about half of the films that have been anticipated for the awards season have been released nation-wide.  Being stuck in the suburban boonies, it felt like I waited an eternity before seeing HER (who? shout out to Chris Gallo!) in a theater.  However, those little gold statuettes have gone home with some, while others (here's looking at you LEO) will have to wait at least another year...or maybe another 20 or maybe they'll have to wait until the Academy gives them their gilded version of a rich people pity party, by granting them the Lifetime Achievement Award, and so let's put 2013 to bed before getting too deep in to 2014 movie reviews.


The Wolf of Wall Street : If you didn't see this one, and you can handle a little, ok, a LOT of raunch to go with your embezzling, then, you're missing out.  At 3 hours most (boring) people said it was just TOO LONG or TOO whatever foolish notion they'd made up in their minds, to come up with an excuse to dislike it.  But to be honest, this is both vintage and newly dynamic Scorsese.  I mean the man is 72 years old and he just shot a film that is not only relevant, but capable of shocking, with a little bit of help from various prostheses.  It's a blur of drugs and money and performances that deliver.  It's the best Leonardo DiCaprio has ever been.  Hands down.  He would have deserved that Oscar if he could have wrestled it from the hands of the Mighty McConaughey, but for some reason, too many people were unwilling to board this bullet train, which is a shame, because, it's a heck of a ride.


Her: Brilliant and fully ready to wrestle with the universe's giant mysteries, HER is its own weird and uniquely beautiful love letter to the human condition; particularly the condition of being in, well, love.  Through the lens of quirky Theodore Twombly (a truly magnificent Joaquin Phoenix) the film follows every step of what it means to actually connect with someone, with anyone, in a world where connections are fewer and farther between.  It looks like a hipster Instagrammed fantasy, and I was more than ok with that.  The whole thing is filmed with pops of color in a sun-dappled neutral palette that allows you to get as lost in the story as in the monochrome monotony of life, and if you're able to see Samantha as more than Siri, you'll probably find yourself surprisingly moved.  It's ambitious, original, and deeply grounded in emotion, and it was everything I wanted it to be.


The World's End: At this point, I'm almost certain that there's nothing that Edgar Wright could film that I wouldn't want to instantly see.  He's managed to build a reputation as the movie lover who films the movies you love, in my opinion.  He uses all of his, what seems to be near-Tarantino level encyclopedic film knowledge and, at his best, creates genre films that bend their genres without breaking them.  The World's End offers up what can best be described as a mash-up of apocalyptic disaster films and quirky reunion flicks.  Think of it A BIT as what it would look like if Independence Day was just happened to be on the same weekend as that Big Chill reunion.  It's much, much more than that, and I even feel silly boiling it down to those simplistic terms, but people like simple these days.  Which may explain why I feel that the box office on this movie was distinctly lacking from what it SHOULD have been.  Simon Pegg's Gary King is a wonderfully layered character and Pegg's performance is stealthily complex.  Nick Frost, this time the stifled, serious one, is genuinely a joy to watch, and not just because of his insane wrestling moves.  The most emotional entry, The Wold's End is really the cherry atop Edgar Wright's Cornetto Trilogy.


Before Midnight: Oddly enough, another great entry into what is currently a trilogy, but could always turn out to be more should the team of Hawke, Delpy and Linklater decide to take another swing, Before Midnight is basically the emotional equivalent of that moment in Temple of Doom where the guy literally has his heart ripped out....except this time you can't look away.  Jesse and Celine (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) are back, but unlike the previous entries, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, their happy-go-lucky attitudes have vanished into the fog of their youth.  Now middle-aged and middle-relation-shipped, the two find themselves farther apart even though they're living under the same roof.  It's about all of those dirty little secrets that the couples you think are the happiest hide when they go out to dinner.  Authentic and emotional as always, this entry in the story pulls away the fairy tale curtain, without wallowing in despair. 


August: Osage County: "Ughhhh so typical" I thought when I first saw the trailer for August: Osage County.  Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts in a family drama due out just in time for awards season?...Of Course! I could feel the begrudgement (I'm making that a word) sticking in my throat as I asked for my ticket.  And yet, at the end of the film, I thought it was one of the most moving, intriguing character studies I'd ever seen.  Based on the Tracy Letts' play of the same name, August: Osage County puts the dark in dark comedy, but I would argue that the performances here, especially from Julia Roberts, are the best many of these people have been in years.  If you've never known an addict, never been a resident  in the hell of someone's addiction, it may be difficult to connect, as the story is unequivocally focused on that subject.  It's not so much a film about a family's loss, as it is about a family's intervention, or just, generally, the way family intervenes in everything.  For me, the story always fell appropriately short of sap, never allowing the empathy to turn to sympathy, so that just as with the family depicted, everyone is still kept at arms length, as a viewer.  But that's what allows the brutal honesty to filter through.  Sometimes funny, sometimes hurtful, it's more of a film about catharsis than solution. Was it the feel good hit of the holidays?  Heck no.  But it does contain several moments that people have probably acted out in their minds while sitting around the Thanksgiving table.


Thor: The Dark World: Chill out, I can practically see the eye rolls from Asgard on this pick, but honestly, it was so much more fun to me than the first one, despite the more serious nature of the threat/villain in this one.  I unabashedly love Tom Hiddleston and the fact that he and Thor actually got to be brothers for a moment was a delightful change of pace.  I thought the chemistry between Portman and Hemsworth was better than in the first one (note: this doesn't mean that the chemistry was overwhelmingly great, it just means at least palpable this time) and while many people will probably cite this as just barely squeaking past Iron Man 2 in the Marvel-verse, I would simply tell them to re-watch the moment when Loki is able to bring Thor and Jane through that weird, rock portal and upon basically crash-landing, say "Ta-Da!" in a mischievous sing-song voice.  It's pretty clear now that there is little interest in developing Thor as a character and that Loki is actually the heart of Thor's story, but, perhaps because of that, I enjoyed the film and will have no problem re-watching it often.


Iron Man 3: Slight spoiler, directly ahead: The Ben Kingsley reveal that happens about 2/3 of the way through this film is probably in my Top 10 moments in film for 2013.  The third entry in the Iron Man story is, on some days, my favorite yet. It feels like an almost perfectly balanced superhero movie and, although entirely reliant on Robert Downey Jr's charm, it works, because well, he IS that charming and that's why he gets paid the big bucks.  Pairing again with his Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang director, Shane Black, Mr. Downey Jr is at his best as he tries to avoid dealing with his PTSD from the New York attack in The Avengers. He may be a superhero, but he did practically die.  After an attack on his home (compound) forces him to basically start all over again from scratch, Stark's quest for revenge and reinvention takes some, dare I say, surprising turns.  Best of all, this film finally gives Pepper Potts the chance to kick some butt.  While I sometimes wish they had figured out a way for Potts to be a supporting superhero, instead of forcing her to fall back in to her every girl status, I was by no means disappointed by this one.


You're Next: I've said it before, but I'm not a fan of the horror genre.  To give you a reference as to where I'm coming from, I'd say my favorite horror films are the Scream franchise.  I like my horror with at least as much wit as gore.  That's not to say that You're Next isn't gory, because it is; I mean, it's certainly not something I would have been allowed to watch at, say my fifth grade slumber party. That being said, I'm sure there are true fans of the horror genre that wouldn't necessarily have loved this movie the way that I did.  To say much more is to give things away, but this one kind of got a bit swept under the rug during its release due to another masked fauxrror movie The Purge.  While that movie was greenlit for a sequel, this one struggled to stay in the box office. I just felt like I really quite enjoyed this movie and not enough people had taken the opportunity to see it.  If there was any curiosity over this one when you saw the trailer, and you're capable of stomaching some gore, I'd say definitely give this one a watch.



Frozen: I had a couple of issues with this one when I first saw it.  Most of that was on me, because I loved Tangled so much that my expectations for this one were set before I'd even seen it.  It's not disappointing, it's just different from what I was expecting.  The movie takes some chances with the traditional Disney formula, and it mostly pays off.  I think the thing that I had the most problem coming to grips with is the fact that I felt I was watching a musical, not a Disney musical.  I know that sounds like an odd statement, but there's someone out there who knows what I'm talking about, right?  It felt like this movie was designed to be a musical, like it should have been a musical first and this was the adaptation of it, instead of the other way around.  It's no surprise then that since leaving the theater,  I haven't been able to stop listening to the songs, but it also means I don't remember the specific context of those songs quite so well.  The story is a bit of a blur and the characters aren't as developed as they could be, but it's still head and shoulder's above most kids movies out there now.  It's catch and charming and while I think it could have been even more, again, I'll have no trouble re-watching it when it's released on Blu-Ray


Prisoners: As a girl whose favorite Fincher movie is Zodiac, ow could I resist seeing this movie?  If you haven't seen Zodiac, by the way, you should clear out the next 3 hours of your life and do so now.  The story of what happens to two girls who go missing and the different ways their families cope, is not the easiest watch. But I'm always ready for a creepy thriller, especially one that features Jake Gyllenhaal and is this beautifully shot by Roger Deakins.  Hugh Jackman leaves his Wolverine Muttonchops on the makeup stand for a while to portray the proactive father of one of the missing girls and while the entire cast is spot-on, it's the twists and turns that are the heart of this movie.  In a world full of predictability, I found this to be a more interesting ride than I bargained for.  It's terrifying and dark, mostly because of its plausibility, but it feels like a hidden gem in a year that was full of some very good films, and some very over-hyped films.


Lone Survivor:I couldn't decide on just 10 movies this year. It was a good year for movies, what can I say?  Plus, for some reason, this film didn't seem to receive the recognition it should have.  It's an interesting exercise, going in to a film, pretty much knowing how everything ends, because it's a true story, and yet, getting emotionally involved enough to hope, for a second, that somehow the ending will miraculously change.  That's what happened for me with Lone Survivor.  I surprised myself when I found my eyes a bit teary, and while it would have been easy to go the 'Murica route and make it a clear Good Guys V. Bad Guys story, it actually takes the time to go more in depth about cultural differences in the Middle East, without being ostentatious about it.  In fact, the whole movie, is actually quite subdued, except for the bone-crushingly realistic scenes of the four soldiers as they tumble down a mountain.  The action sequences are engaging and all of the performances are as authentic as you can get without actually casting soldiers.  It proves, once again, that any movie with Eric Bana in it, should be seen.


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