Collin’s 2013 Film Review

QUALIFIERS

I’m a busy guy, especially during football season, so while I love film and TV, I have limitations on what I’m able to see.  At least until I’m paid for my opinion to matter more, right?

So with that said, I still have not yet seen the following films:  Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, All is Lost, Blue Jasmine, Filth, Inside Llewyn Davis, Philomena.

(Thus, don’t expect mentions of them below, obviously.)

BEST OF FILM

1. Mud

As far as I’m concerned, the only flaw with Mud was that it ended.

Mud, to me, is a lot of things, so it’s incredibly hard to describe why the film resonated so deeply with me.  It’s a deconstruction of love as we know it, or rather, as we’re supposed to know it when we’re kids and we think something like love operates by some scripted logic—they’re married, so they should love each other, and if they don’t, they can fix it by just trying harder…she’s a damsel in distress, I saved her, she kissed me, so I’ve won a special place in her heart.  It’s an ode to life on the Mississippi, evoking memories of Tom Sawyer and the world as seen from a raft, grounding hardship and poverty in a very real sense of identity and place, and less so the glorification of something along the lines of Beasts of the Southern Wild.  It’s a celebration of friendship, of what we might sacrifice in holding on to those bonds that keep us from drifting away entirely.  It’s a sobering coming-of-age tale prone to flirtations with the mythical, the transcendent fiction we construct around those we hold as quantifiably different than others, better than others, more worthy of our rose-colored idolization.

It’s a slow burn.  In my view, it’s the best kind of slow burn, one that transports us into a very real, fascinating place with very real, fascinating and flawed characters.  I can see where some might not buy into the world Mud creates, and if that’s the case, no, you’re probably not going to hold this film in high esteem.

But if you do allow yourself the journey, the rewards are plentiful.  It’s difficult to tell such a rich, meaningful story from the eyes of a young teenage protagonist, and thankfully, Mud succeeds first and foremost due to the incredible performances of Tye Sheridan (Ellis) and Jacob Lofland (Neckbone).  Christ, those kids can act.  Sheridan has a scene in the transition into the film’s final act that delivers as much raw emotion as any performance I’ve seen this year.  But if those necessary performances weren’t enough, the film is exploding with performances that jump off the screen: Matthew McConaughey (who can do no wrong now, apparently) as the titular character, Ray McKinnon as a father struggling to stake his claim in a changing world, and Reese Witherspoon in perhaps the most understated (and all the better for it) performance of her career.

I remember reading a description of Mud some six months before it was released, and making a mental note I had to see the film, so I had built up a great deal of hype around it.  Still, after leaving the theater, I felt the film was so much more than even I had anticipated.  It was a poem of painful truths, yet still an optimistic thought on what we might become—how much stronger we might be—after licking our wounds, and looking forward to that open sea where we had once only known a very small pond.

2.  12 Years a Slave

Oh.  My.  God.

Steve McQueen’s masterpiece is a must-watch, if uncomfortable (it kind of has to be, right?) experience.  I didn’t quite think McQueen’s previous effort, Shame, was deserving of the acclaim it received, but you could tell McQueen knew what he was doing.

Given stronger material and more (name) actors to work with, McQueen works wonders with one of those rare films you really do have to find a way to see.  It’s really difficult to describe, for me at least, and there are hundreds of reviews out there that will do more justice than this sad little offering.

Just take my word for it: you will be shocked, you will be moved, you will not forget this film, and you really must find a way to see it.

3.  American Hustle

As I usually say on here, I mostly base my interest in films around the director attached.  David O. Russell will always be a slam dunk.  I remember seeing Three Kings with my dad as a kid, and loving that movie to death.  I remember buying I Heart Huckabees as a teenager and suddenly assuming a (bullshit) understanding of existentialism (oh, the many ways in which I thought I was smarter than everyone else, but sounded like a complete idiot — guess not much changes through the years!)

Russell’s last two directoral efforts, Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter, have been nothing short of exceptional, so my expectations were nothing short of epic for this one, especially as it managed to essentially combine the casts of those two films.

So, in all honesty, I was slightly let down.  Slightly.  It didn’t seem to have as much life, as much color as his other films.  Something just felt a bit off.

That said, it was still a damn good movie.  And I would see it again, and probably enjoy it more the second time around.

It felt about 20-30 minutes too long, and I wasn’t thrilled with Bradley Cooper’s performance, but Christian Bale, Amy Adams and especially Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner were exceptional, and when the film picked up pace, it really became clear it deserved a spot in this year’s top five.  Again, it’s not that there was anything wrong with the film—by all metrics, it should score well—but I just found myself expecting more consistent moments of brilliance, and found myself wading through a lot of dialogue in the process (which can work in a Tarantino film, and works when it’s well-written as is the case here, but it felt extraneous in spots).

It probably reads like I’m complaining about this film.  I’m not; I’m mostly trying to explain why it isn’t in my top 2, but absolutely deserves a watch.  I have no doubt damn near everyone associated with this film will be nominated, and with good cause, and I walked out thinking I enjoyed the film and would like to see it again.  It was clever and funny, if a bit unsure of what tone it aimed to strike at points, and hit intelligent thematic beats on the pursuit of something better without hitting us over the head or being obnoxious about it.

4.  About Time

Yeah, I’m a sucker for Richard Curtis films/scripts (Love ActuallyNotting Hill) so this was on my must-see list.

I expected a lighthearted romantic comedy with some wry British humor to separate it from the heaps of other forgettable romcoms (or as 2013 introduced us to: zomromcoms!)

Instead, I got a film that forced me to bite my lip to stop my lower jaw from quivering during the third act.  Gee, thanks Richard!

Seriously though, the less said about this film, perhaps the better, because the advertising and initial act set it up as one thing, and it ends up being something—at least for me—so much more powerful than its premise.  Okay, brief spoiler: it’s the most sentimental take on a father-son relationship I’ve seen in at least a decade.  I wanted to hug my dad after watching.

Relative newcomer Domhnall Gleeson (yes, son of iconic character actor Brendan Gleeson) was a terrific anchor, but damn, did Bill Nighy steal the show.  Top 5 performance of 2013.  Just true brilliance, the best of Bill Nighy, and Bill Nighy has made brilliance standard.  Why can’t all actors be more British?

The anti-Curtis crowd may find some of the script schmaltzy, and the sci-fi crowd would tear some of its logic to pieces.  And that’s all fine.  But I found the film to be one of the smartest, most sincere, enjoyable, refreshing two hours of my year.  My hat off to Richard Curtis for delivering once again.  This is the kind of understated genius that inspires me to finish a screenplay someday.  Or something like that.

5.  The Hunt

Two words: Mads Mikkelsen.

Mikkelsen delivered one of the performances of the year in this clever, often-uncomfortable Danish drama.  Few films will make you feel for the central character quite like this one does, which doesn’t always make for the most pleasant viewing experience, but certainly makes for a rewarding one in examining how one lie can become something much, much uglier.

This can be a frustrating film at times, but it forces you to identify with the protagonist and makes you work much in the same mode as Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave.  There’s nothing forced here, nor melodramatic.  Just a well-directed, well-acted worst case scenario that seems terrifyingly real.

6. The Place Beyond the Pines

I’m not sure there was a more divisive film in 2013 than director Derek Cianfrance’s second collaboration with Ryan Gosling (the first, Blue Valentine, is not a recommended date movie, by the way).

It really seems that you either loved or hated this one, and I totally understand why.  It took risks, including a major one at the end of the film’s first act.  It was enormously ambitious—perhaps to a frustrating extent in trying to detail the ripple effects of a fateful encounter across multiple generations of fathers and sons.  And because of those two qualifiers, it probably wasn’t the film you envisioned from the trailers, especially as the third act came to life.

But for my money, I respected the hell out of its ambition.  It tried to do something most films can’t do, at least within the context of one film, and I thought for the most part, it succeeded.  Yes, there are leaps of logic involved, and a few plot conveniences, but I found myself engrossed throughout.  It’s also fun watching Dane DeHaan’s star power grow—he turned in some impressive performances in 2012-2013, and 2014 is setting up for a breakout year of sorts.

7.  Gravity

I don’t quite know how to classify Gravity.

Is this a top film, as in one of my top overall films of the year?  Is it just a “fun” film, a novelty, something along the lines of Avatar?

I think, to understand the brilliance of Gravity, you have to understand how much Alfonso Cuaron invested in this film.  We’re talking years of work.  Years of waiting until the technology was available to make this film possible.  Years of sitting on that epic continuous tracking shot and waiting for the chance to finally create his dream film.

And to state the obvious, Gravity‘s visuals are stunning.  We’ve almost been casual in the way we’ve described one of the most impressively-constructed films ever made.  Like it’s expected, because James Cameron blew our minds a few years ago as well, so this sort of thing just happens.

I was able to catch it in IMAX 3D and…wow.  If we’re lucky, there is one film per year worth seeing in IMAX 3D.  This was it.  This was absolutely stunning.  No film has relocated the viewer to a foreign space and joined them to the characters’ fates quite like this one.

Add in a really impressive performance by Sandra Bullock—read more on how much time she put into training to shoot this film—and yes, I do think you have a top 5-10 film.

That said, the impact is probably lost if this is watched on anything other than the big screen.  Though I think some of its existential themes are well-constructed and a bit smarter than popularly given credit for, you mostly watch for the spectacle here.

8. The Spectacular Now

I’ll be honest: The Spectacular Now was a film I knew I always needed to see, purely from aggregating critical consensus, but also a film I could never get excited about seeing.  Penned by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Heber (500 Days of Summer), I knew there was little chance this was a dud, and highly probable to have a strong heart at its center, but still—high school, boy meets girl, relationship drama, and because I have a lifetime membership in the Showtime early AM insomnia club, which constitutes the only demographic to have ever survived the endurance test of the scriptvomit of a movie like Project X, I knew it featured that face I associate with the worst hour-and-change I ever found myself too lazy to change the channel.

Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong.  On so many accounts.

From a pure story perspective, the film was nothing special, and the ending was entirely rushed (offering an open-to-interpretation final beat that felt lazy given the pacing).  But few films benefited from honest, realistic performances this year quite like this film.  Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley were unbelievable as the central couple, and perfect-note offerings from Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyle Chandler, Andre Royo and Bob Odenkirk only served to enhance what was another of 2013’s strongest offerings in the deconstruction of “love” (this in its sense of empowerment in meaning beyond a moment).  Issues like alcoholism and abandonment are scripted so naturally, you keep waiting for the Hollywood cliche, and it thankfully never comes.  You keep waiting for a misstep, for a sharp veer into teenage drama or beer pong territory, and instead, you’re treated to some of the best on-film chemistry captured in recent years, and the kind of storytelling honesty that evades so many similar efforts.

9.  The Way, Way Back

This one straddles my fun/great list, but hell, it gets the edge for the ensemble cast’s strength alone.

Sam Rockwell is at his very best here, turning in a performance that hits just about every note possible, and one of those vintage Sam Rockwell performances that you can’t imagine anyone else quite pulling off.

But it’s not just Rockwell.  Everyone plays a part here.  Liam James, whose character from The Killing could be considered “mildly annoying” at best, really does a fantastic job grounding the film with an awkward teenager performance that comes off naturally.  Allison Janney and Toni Collette are fantastic as always, and Steve Carell makes you want to punch him harder than ever before (which is entirely necessary to make this film work).

It’s far from an all-time-great film.  But it’s written and acted with a sort of effortless wit, smarter than it should be, and overall just a damn charming piece of work.  I tip my hat to Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who clearly have a bright future in this business.

10. Rush

This was a late add because I didn’t catch it until December 27, and is probably higher up in the list if this really mattered, but whatever, just trying to include.

Bit of a different offering from Ron Howard here, which I loved.  Felt fresh, exciting, new.  Didn’t feel like it pulled from familiar elements, which might be a criticism of Howard films.

I don’t really care for motorsports, and multiply that disinterest by 100 when considering motorsports movies, but this was riveting throughout, because while it was certainly about sport, it was just as much about what fuels competition.  Probably the best recent example of an on-screen rivalry, traced from its inception through its conclusion.

Daniel Bruhl delivers an exceptional performance as Niki Lauda, and gets an add to my best male actor list below.  Chris Hemsworth—who is really trying hard, and arguably succeeding, at proving he’s more than just a nice face—holds serve, granted with an easier character to portray, and everything about this film had me interested throughout, which is about as high praise as I can offer for anything.

JUST PLAIN FUN

These titles can be considered the “not quite the best, but still worth a watch” crop of my 2013 picks.  As the header implies, I just had fun watching them, even if I don’t supposed I’ll necessarily remember any of them years from now.

1.  The Kings of Summer

Easily the most strange and most surprising film I saw in 2013, but in the best way(s) possible.

I initially saw the trailer for this one before a screening of Mud, and thought it looked like your fairly standard teen rebellion dramedy flick.  Boy has strict parents, boy rebels against strict parents, boy engages in antics, boy learns things, boy appreciates his parents, but not before some climactic event happens first.

So the script doesn’t stray too far off that path, quite honestly, but this film was set apart by two things.

First, the writing.  Chris Galletta, whose only previous credits were as a production staffer for David Letterman, penned one of the funniest scripts of the year.  It’s random, it’s nonsensical at points, but not in the obnoxious Diablo Cody sense of either of those elements.  It has a certain bite to it, a strange kind of funny.  It knows its characters, feeds them great lines, and has a lot of fun in the process.  Really, that’s likely it right there: it was the most fun script I encountered all year.

Second, the performances.  Everyone in this cast is perfect!  Nick Offerman gives his best non-Ron Swanson (in the sense Offerman can ever not be Ron Swanson) performance yet, stealing the show for the most part.  Offerman’s wife, Megan Mullally, is similarly hilarious, and from there, the central three performances bring life into the film, courtesy Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso and Moises Arias.  Damn, those kids were funny, but weighted where they needed to be, really just working in conjunction with Galletta’s script to hit the perfect notes at the perfect time.

Also incredibly impressive, if I can spin an impromptu third point, was the direction of Jordan Vogt-Roberts.  Here’s this oddball summer teen rebellion comedy, and it looks freaking gorgeous throughout.  It looked like a more enjoyable version of David Gordon Green’s Prince Avalanche.  Wow.  That kind of thing doesn’t usually stand out in a film like this.

The humor may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but damn, I can confidently say I did not want this film to end.

2.  The Conjuring

James Wan’s Insidious sequel may have been a bit loud on jump scares, but his 2013 counterbalance The Conjuring was one of the purest horror films I have ever seen—and I’m a guy who only really regards Jacob’s Ladder and Session 9 as must-see horror films.

(Well, okay, recent must-see horror films.)

Probably the most fun I had seeing a movie with friends this year.  The pacing was perfect, the performances were believable given genre, and all of the scares felt so well-earned, not forced.  This was less about ghosts jumping out from the darkness than it was about the unbearable tension built up by a game of hide-and-clap we know cannot possibly end well for the protagonist.

3.  This Is The End

I don’t know why people were surprised this flick was fun/funny.  If you knew even the bare basics about the cast and premise, you should have been prepared.  And the good news was: it never let down in any way.  Everyone points to Channing Tatum’s cameo—which was hilarious—but the film achieved golden status for me when a coked-out-of-his-mind Michael Cera slapped Rihanna’s butt (and the related back story of Rihanna slapping Cera’s face harder in each successive take).

4.  Warm Bodies

Though it faded toward the end, and had a lot of intelligent source material to work with, you can’t fault Warm Bodies for being a funny, well-written twist on the romcom genre (zomromcom!)  Without Nicholas Hoult, I’m not sure this film quite works, but some strong writing and acting elevates this just above “see it on HBO sometime” status.

5.  V/H/S 2

The original V/H/S was a fun take on the oversaturated found-footage genre, but ultimately fell short of its ambitious mark because the central story made little or no sense, and the anthology put its best foot forward with a terrifying first segment but had little ammunition left to scare or surprise the audience afterward (it’s OK to lead with your best, but you’d better build toward that same level again at some point, and the original assumed a downward trajectory).

So, in addressing the flaws of the original, V/H/S 2 was markedly improved.  Still far from perfect, and in this case, leading with perhaps the weakest offering of the bunch, but overall far more even and consistent.  The “Safe Haven” tape could stand alone as one of the best moments in horror film in recent years, and “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” was essentially heavy metal found-footage, equally schlocky and conscious of its ridiculousness in a way only Jason Eisener (Hobo With a Shotgun) could ever manage.

6.  Funeral Kings

Funeral Kings was an exciting first step for Kevin and Matthew McManus (or as known, the McManus Brothers), who shot around a fairly tight script and budget to bring us a cheeky, if uneven, riff on adolescence for Catholic boys.

If you grew up Catholic, as I did, you could relate to a lot in a much more organic sense than something like The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys.  Though the film was a bit uneven and suffered from a few flat-note performances, it was also honest about kids in a way most films just aren’t, or refuse to be.  2013 actually featured another beat along that train of thought, the Canadian film I Declare War, which was similarly successful in exploring adolescent psychology but too often flirted with nonsensical fantasy and cheesy special effects which served to undo the more interesting task of asking just what exactly fuels friendship, betrayal and those waning moments of juvenile selflessness before you realize there exists a ladder, and if you want to climb up, you might just have to crush some hands in the process.

Back to this film, though: nifty soundtrack, Kevin Corrigan (there is never enough Kevin Corrigan), took some risks, and refused the temptation to ever be anything it wasn’t.  I hope to see more from the McManus Brothers going forward.

7.  Hell Baby

I tend to gravitate toward films based on directors, and seeing Robert Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon at the helm (you probably know them best from Reno 911! but each has a far more impressive resume than I would venture most folks realize) with a cast list featuring Rob Corddry, Leslie Bibb, Keegan-Michael Key (of Key & Peele fame), Michael Ian Black, Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer made this an easy rental.

As with a lot of work these writers/directors/actors are responsible for, it will be fairly divisive.  You either subscribe to that school of comedy, or you don’t.  I found Hell Baby consistently hilarious.  The po’boy interlude may have been the hardest I laughed at any scene in any film in 2013, and Key stole the show as F’resnel, the sagacious neighbor who randomly climbs through windows or lives in the crawlspace.

MOST DISAPPOINTING

1. Out of the Furnace

The first scene of the film really sets it up for failure.  Woody Harrelson—at his backwoods tweaker best, and no one plays deranged bad guys or idiotic good guys quite like Woody Harrelson—delivers an opening note of palpable menace, the kind of on-screen evil you know will scorch the earth to its very core before giving the protagonist the satisfaction of pulling the trigger for that one final act.

But then, the rest of the film was just…boring.  I suppose it strived for atmospheric, but the end result was more of a bleak meandering through interiors that had yet to be introduced to the invention of the lightbulb.

Worse, where the imagery of a Terrence Malick or Lars von Trier film may resonate in its subtle beauty, this film was essentially two hours of juxtaposing cuts of opposing characters doing similar things in different circumstances, as if created to screen for first-year film students still being introduced to the concept of mis-en-scene.

(Gee, I wonder why they’re showing Christian Bale doing this while Woody Harrelson does that…the implication completely eludes me!)

I liked the cast.  I should have liked the film.  But given its obsession with the obvious while spinning a yarn about damn near nothing, I found myself checking my phone with alarming regularity instead.

2.  Prisoners

Prisoners had a unique enough concept, but the execution was fairly poor throughout, and the hope was that you would be too distracted by the Swedish art house production makeover to notice.

I don’t know how people found this film to be terrific.  It started out with a promising premise, and for a while, there were shades of a great Dennis Lehane-esque mystery.  But then it devolved into an extraordinarily silly exercise in patience with an obvious “twist” you found yourself hoping wouldn’t be the twist, because it was that dumb and illogical.

Hint: if you have to introduce all of your explanatory elements in the third act, your script is probably flawed, and your final act may suffer consequentially.

3.  Cloud Atlas

Completely hypocritical to my thoughts on The Place Beyond the Pines, of course, I understand the ambition of this film, but don’t think it’s enough to atone for its many sins, not the least of which was its clunky editing and narrative constructive (yes, I know it’s nearly impossible to translate this novel to screen, but no, that doesn’t mean I have to pretend that the story was in any way spun with consideration for the audience—it was a complete symphony, or cacophony, rather, of filmmaker chest-beating).

I did like some parts of Cloud Atlas, but the sci-fi/futuristic segments weren’t for me.  So maybe the film just wasn’t for me, and I concede that, but it felt like a good idea with no organization and Tom Hanks in horrible makeup, speaking gibberish half the time.

4.  The World’s End

I’m sure this will shock some.  While I wasn’t a huge fan of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, I am—or was—a huge fan of the Cornetto trilogy.  Shaun of the Dead, of course, is brilliant…I think, perhaps, a bit overplayed now, but it still exists in an elite pantheon of comedies.  I remember hearing about it when I was in high school and finding it in Blockbuster (dating this a bit), obscured by a million other titles, with its two copies available for rental.  Since then, it’s really become a cult classic, as is evidenced by the fact it seems to be on cable TV every single night.

Fast-forward to Hot Fuzz, which I consider one of the most re-watchable films I have ever seen (also on that list: In Bruges) and probably quote too often.  By this point, Edgar Wright was really establishing a unique style that I’ve seen emulated in at least two or three titles since now.  Brilliant comedy, brilliant direction, absolutely setting up sky-high expectations for future efforts.

Unfortunately, I just didn’t find The World’s End…well, fun.  Even Scott Pilgrim, which I found flawed, was fun in parts, but with his last two efforts, it really feels like Wright is trying too hard to force the issue.  There’s almost too much stylistic flair and looks-better-on-paper dialogue crammed in to frames, and the result is a sensory overload of directorial decisions that really distract from the longer setup/payoff act Wright often adhered to in his initial efforts.

I was as shocked as anyone.  I hardly laughed.  I kept waiting for the film to get better as the bar crawl escalated, but it really didn’t.  Some of the visual gags were amusing.  The effort to cram in references to every single sci-fi movie or TV show ever was more than a bit distracting.

Edgar Wright, you don’t have to work so hard to convince me you’re doing something neat!  I already know you are.  So focus on doing something neat.

5.  Gangster Squad

How a director as innovative and fun as Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) managed to take a cast featuring Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone, Josh Brolin and Nick Nolte, and then produce the most bland mobster movie ever made, is entirely beyond me.

BEST MALE PERFORMANCES

1.  Mads Mikkelsen, The Hunt

2.  Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave

3.  Matthew McConaughey, Mud or Dallas Buyers Club (dealer’s choice!)

4.  Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street

5.  Bill Nighy, About Time

Also of note:  Daniel Bruhl (Rush), Sam Rockwell (The Way, Way Back), Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club), Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland (Mud), Michael Fassbender and Paul Giammati (12 Years a Slave), Daniel DeHaan (The Place Beyond the Pines, Kill Your Darlings), Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station), Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now), Jeremy Renner (American Hustle), Christian Bale (American Hustle), Keith Stanfield (Short Term 12)

BEST FEMALE PERFORMANCES

1.  Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)

2.  Brie Larson (Short Term 12)

3.  Shailene Woodley (The Spectacular Now)

4.  Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)

5.  Emily Watson (The Book Thief)

Also of note:  Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Kristen Scott Thomas (Only God Forgives), Amy Adams (American Hustle), Kaitlyn Dever (Short Term 12)

NAMES TO KNOW FOR 2014

1.  Daniel DeHaan, actor

2.  Brie Larson, actress

3.  Kaitlyn Dever, actress

4.  Lupita Nyong’o, actress

5.  Jeff Nichols, director

6.  Gareth Evans, director

7.  Tye Sheridan, actor

8.  James Ponsoldt, director

9.  Miles Teller, actor

10.  Shailene Woodley, actress

11.  Kevin & Matthew McManus, writer/directors

12.  Susanne Bier, director

13.  Jordan Vogt-Roberts, director

14.  Chris Galletta, writer

15.  Lake Bell, actress/writer/director

16.  Destin Cretton, writer/director

17.  Keith Stanfield, actor

WHAT I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO IN 2014:

1.  They Came Together

2.  Gone Girl

3.  Interstellar

4.  Veronica Mars

5.  Godzilla

6.  Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

7.  Noah

8.  This Is Where I Leave You

9.  The Grand Budapest Hotel

10.  22 Jump Street

11.  Exodus

12.  Fury

13.  The LEGO Movie

14.  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

15.  Stretch

16.  The Boxtrolls

17.  Robocop

18.  Draft Day

19.  Horrible Bosses 2

20.  Dumb and Dumber To

ODDS AND ENDS

1.  Short Term 12 just missed my cut for 10 best pictures, and is a bit of a heavy watch, so “just plain fun” seems like an odd categorization.  But it’s worth a separate mention because of its staying power, the organic force with which it is directed, and three terrific performances by Brie Larson (noted already on here), Kaityln Dever and Keith Stanfield.  Dever seems to be on the Jennifer Lawrence track to me—star in backwoods crime sage (Dever in FX’s Justified, Lawrence in the brilliant A Winter’s Bone), continue to make a variety of smart choices from there.  Tremendous young actress; she should go far.  And Stanfield blew me away in a supporting role in this film.  He dominated the screen with every frame he commanded.  Larson won a best actress enumeration from me, and I continue to be impressed with her every performance.  The film on the whole is a bit heavy here—which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s pit-in-the-stomach viewing—but full of terrific performances and so completely unforced, I’ll continue to welcome anything Destin Cretton has to offer.

2.  2013, again, asked us to interrogate what constitutes a “performance”—and no, it wasn’t just Andy Serkis this time around.  Instead, I’ll submit another name for consideration: Troy Baker.  Ring a bell?  No?  Well, if you played any of these video games this year, it should: Bioshock Infinite, The Last of Us, Saints Row IV, Batman: Arkham Origins…the list goes on.

But our artform discussion d’jour (well, d’whatever-is-French-for-year) should stem from The Last of Us, which was as compelling as any film released in 2013.  Baker’s central performance was brilliant, and went beyond the conventions of standard gaming.  I know we’re still not at a point where we would ever nominate someone for voicework, lest Peter O’Toole or Jeremy Irons already won an award, but it’s worth again asking ourselves how we frame the medium which allows consideration for such accolades.

Even a year or two ago, this conversation would have presented itself as ridiculous.  But I look at what games are increasingly able to do—and not just from a graphical capacity—and I really do feel a talent like Baker is just as responsible for wow’ing me as a Tom Hanks or Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Certainly, it’s a trend worth keeping an eye on.

3.  I consider Kristen Scott Thomas’ performance in Only God Forgives to be a top performance of the year, and Only God Forgives to be one of the worst films of the year.  Go figure.  She was terrific, though.

4.  As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a gangster I’ve always had a healthy video collection.  When I was a kid, I’d track which days movies like Twister and Independence Day would be set for release on VHS, chart out how many chores I’d have to do to afford the $25 purchase, and make sure I had a copy available to watch on its release date.  Throughout junior high and high school, especially as I got my first job (as a library page) at 15, I purchased hundreds of DVDs—some better investments than others (on the bright side, I did manage to sell Napoleon Dynamite at a garage sale a few years back!)

But in the last few years, as film has switched to streaming and Blu-Ray, I’ve really stopped buying and collecting film.  Partly because I have more immediate spending priorities these days, thanks to Sallie Mae and aspirations of owning my own house.  But also partly because I find there are fewer and fewer films I absolutely must own in hard copy format, somehow.

I only purchased one Blu-Ray this year: Mud.  That’s how much I loved this film.  So I encourage you to give it a Red Box rental, if nothing else.

(And if you’re wondering what constitutes the rest of my paltry Blu-Ray collection:  The PropositionThe Social NetworkInceptionWatchmen, Rushmore, The Dark KnightHellboy II and the first two seasons of Game of Thrones.)

5.  You’re going to love what Gareth Edwards does with 2014’s Godzilla.  Trust me.  Monsters was an incredible first offering, and everything about the Godzilla remake points to something epic.

6.  Hardly an original thought, but 2013 was definitely the year of Matthew McConaughey.  I can’t wait to see Dallas Buyer’s Club and The Wolf of Wall Street.

7.  It seems, every year I write these lists, I have a more difficult time coming up with great female performances than great male performances.  I wonder if I’m predisposed to think more of one gender’s acting ability (and need to work on being more gender-neutral), if leading parts just aren’t written as strongly for women not named Tilda Swinton, or if the Best Actor category really is just a stronger field than Best Actress.

8.  I demand more Jason Eisener.  His short in V/H/S 2 was a nice appetizer, but I need a fix of whatever feature effort he may have up his sleeve.  Hobo With a Shotgun remains one of the most effortlessly fun and stylish movies I’ve seen in recent years—though best not watched with anyone who winces at a hard-R rating.

9.  I think Ray McKinnon adds tremendous value to anything he’s in.  Strongest actor in the first season of Deadwood, and that’s saying something.  Great, necessary-to-making-the-film-work turn in Mud this year, and oh by the way, created one of the year’s best TV series in Rectify (more on TV series later) on the side as well.

10.  I think This is 40 was much, much better than everyone else did, apparently.  Much prefer it to Knocked Up, which received rave reviews to the lackluster reception surrounding Judd Apatow’s latest.

11.  The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug didn’t quite make my second-tier list, but we need to stop this mob mentality thing of blindly bashing this trilogy.  Really, it’s not that bad.  This entry was quite enjoyable, if a bit overwhelming for my eyes in IMAX 3D.  I’m not a Tolkien purist or Lord of the Rings fanboy, so maybe I miss the little things, but from my “learning the story on the fly” perspective: I don’t find any flaws in the Hobbit trilogy, thus far, I didn’t find in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I’m mostly just interested in the locations and the action, honestly, and it hasn’t disappointed yet.

12.  Insidious: Chapter 2 was brimming with good ideas, and in theory, should have made for a strong sequel to one of the strongest horror offerings of 2012, but my goodness, was the execution off.  The writing ranged from okay to awful, and the over-reliance on loud jump scares seemed a complete 180 from The Conjuring, another James Wan offering.  I liked a lot of the ideas behind this sequel—the interdimensionality/time travel elements that served to actually enrich the original chapter were brilliant, and Wan has a knack for understanding what just looks creepy on screen (notably, the makeup and costume for The Bride in Black), but all of these ideas were ultimately undone by a poor script and its own insistence on being loud instead of smart.  Which is a shame, of course, because Wan clearly understands subtlety, both in his other 2013 effort, and in Chapter 2’s best scenes (an uncomfortable elevator ride, a glimpse of a ghost in another room that doesn’t even serve as the frame’s focal point).

13.  I thought Safety Not Guaranteed was one of those solid-B kinda movies that sneaks up on your Netflix queue, but wasn’t quite great enough to watch twice, so while I don’t mean to denigrate director Colin Trevorrow (even if he is a one-L Collin), I’m not sure I would trust him to direct Jurassic World either.  Then again, if Uwe Boll directed Jurassic World, it would still probably be better than Jurassic Park 3

14.  Shia LeBeouf is trying really, really hard to stop being Shia LeBeouf.  Just kidding.

15.  I’ll be interested to see how Aubrey Plaza’s career evolves.  I worry about Parks & Recreation characters being typecast, but I think Plaza has more overall potential than anyone else in that cast, so I think she can really do some surprising things with her career, if she is so inclined.

16.  If you’re a Boardwalk Empire fan, watching American Hustle is really distracting.  Not only do you get to see Eli Thompson and Richard Harrow, but there’s an actual tie to the BWE storyline with mentions of Meyer Lansky.

17.  Elysium had some cool ideas, and Neil Blomkamp still has as bright a future as anyone in sci-fi, but damn man…broadcasting  a message like “rich people are inherently evil”?  Lazy.

18.  I don’t really know how to watch or comprehend Shane Carruth (PrimerUpstream Color) films, but I’m glad he exists.  In a world where Harmony Korine’s redundant crap is mistaken for genius, it’s nice to have real auteurs thinking outside of the box who truly deserve your attention.

19.  More Casey Affleck, please.

20.  I wonder when Netflix gets into the original movie game, after singlehandedly changing the TV model.

21.  Perhaps my most shocking discovery of 2013: I think The Book Thief was actually underrated, and this from someone who expected overrated schmaltz.  Yeah, there were some ham-fisted moments, but I really think the film assumes a perspective most World War 2 films don’t—that of the German commonfolk caught up in the conflict (as, in my experience, most World War 2 features are told through the eyes of Jewish victims and Holocaust survivors or American soldiers).  And I could ignore the weaker parts of the film because it captured that perspective so compellingly, the sense of Nazis occupying Germany itself and forcing so many people into impossible decisions and creating a culture of helplessness and submission.  Also credit where credit is due: manipulative moments in film designed to make you tear up…still make you tear up.  So someone must be doing something right.

22.  Keep an eye out for Lake Bell.  Bell, a regular on Childrens Hospital, has been rising on the comedy scene, and directed (as well as wrote and starred in) her debut feature, In a World… this year.  It didn’t quite make my above lists, but it was one of the more refreshing moments in comedy I encountered this year.  Bell is really smart, and understands genre (conventions/expectations) in a manner similar to Galletta, another feature on this year’s list (with both hopefully trending toward Jody Hill genius territory), which bodes well for the future of comedy.  And yes, I think Bell could play a big role in the future of comedy.  I’ll make that leap.  She’s smart enough, that’s for damn sure.

23.  Another (late add) title just missing most of my lists—Kill Your Darlings.  It was a tad too inconsistent to quite hold up as a top 1o candidate, but it would be in the “last 5 out” bubble easily.  Fascinating story, and a lot of substance behind the direction.  Keep an eye out for John Krokidas, the film’s writer & director, as we move forward.  Easy to spot the talent there.  Also a good opportunity to remind about the talent of DeHaan, who anchors the soul of this film.

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