Thursday, January 23, 2014

One Line Review's Top Ten Movies and Noteworthy Achievements 2013

TOP TEN 2013 (alphabetical)
American Hustle (d. David O. Russell)
Before Midnight (d. Richard Linklater)
Blue Jasmine (d. Woody Allen)
Enough Said (d. Nicole Holofcener)
Fruitvale Station (d. Ryan Coogler)
Gravity (d. Alfonso Cuaron)
Her (d. Spike Jonze)
Hunger Games, The: Catching Fire (d. Francis Lawrence)
Hunt, The (d. Thomas Vinterberg)
This Is the End (d. Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen)


Best Film:

Best Actor:
Christian Bale in American Hustle

Best Actress:
Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine

Best Supporting Actress:
Scarlett Johansson in Her

Best Supporting Actor:
Alec Baldwin in Blue Jasmine

Best Original Screenplay:
Spike Jonze for Her

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, and Richard Linklater for Before Midnight

Best Director:
Woody Allen for Blue Jasmine

Honorable Mentions:

Best Film: American Hustle; Blue JasmineThe Hunt.

Best Actor: Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips (I consider him a "lead"); Pilou Asbaek in A Hijacking (as with Abdi, I consider him a lead); Bruce Dern in Nebraska; Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street; Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips; Mads Mikkelsen in The Hunt; Hugh Jackman in Prisoners; Joaquin Phoenix in Her; Soren Malling in A Hijacking.

Best Actress: Amy Adams in American Hustle; Sandra Bullock in Gravity; Adele Exarchopoulos in Blue Is the Warmest Color; Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Enough Said.

Best Supporting Actor: George Clooney in Gravity; Joel Edgerton in The Great Gatsby; Harrison Ford in 42; James Gandolfini in Enough Said; Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street.

Best Supporting Actress: Elizabeth Banks in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire; Nicole Beharie in 42; Octavia Spencer for Fruitvale Station.

Best Original Screenplay: Woody Allen for Blue Jasmine; Nicole Holofcener for Enough Said; Tobias Lindholm and Thomas Vinterberg for The Hunt.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Michael Ardnt (deBruyn) and Simon Beaufoy for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Best Director: Spike Jonze for Her; David O. Russell for American Hustle; Thomas Vinterberg for The Hunt.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

2013 Movie Year-End Wrap-Up

It looks like my new schedule (announcing one week after the Oscar nominations) is working out; I've seen my quota of '13 movies.  There was really only one movie that slipped past me in my move to small town America— Philomena (it did play, but I was not settled yet to travel the distance to see it).  But I've got it down now.  They'll be a lot of driving far distances in my future to get to the smaller movies: but it's doable; and most of the big, commercial releases play in town.

30 films vie for my top ten of 2013, which I'll announce tomorrow. As I didn't have over ten films in my "must-sees" this constitutes a weak year, although my must-see/recommended total is much higher over-all then in most years.

As always, I've viewed 60 films this year; below are my one-line commentaries on each:

Must see [8]:

American Hustle. In a way something of a hustle on the audience too, but another dynamite cast and original script from David O. Russell makes it irresistibly entertaining.

Blue Jasmine. Great characterizations and performances, led by a stellar Blanchett.

Enough Said. Adult, funny; Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini lovely in understated performances.

Fruitvale Station. Effective and affective.

Gravity. An event film.

Her. Clever, contemporary; speaks volumes about the human condition.

Hunger Games, The: Catching Fire. Well adapted and produced sequel, only suffers from being a "middle entry."

Hunt, The. Dramatically solid, with some truly heartbreaking moments (if not an easy film to recommend due to subject matter).

Recommended [22]:

42. Not a home run, but a solid double; Harrison Ford scenery-chewing fun to watch.

Before Midnight. Content-wise everything this third installment should have been, admittedly though it comes off as a filmed stage play.

Blackfish. Makes you sad for the whales as much as the human victims.

Captain Phillips. Solid filmmaking with flawless casting.

Dallas Buyers Club. Interesting story is a series of small dramatic beats but no wallops; showy performances.

Despicable Me 2. Irresistibly cute, structurally loose.

Elysium. Good message, but requires quite a few "Independence Day"-like moments of suspension disbelief.

From Up On Poppy Hill. Attractive animation with a nice story— a good movie for a Sunday afternoon.

Frozen. Perfectly pleasant (and Broadway-ready), helped greatly by delightful snowman comic relief character Olaf.

Great Gatsy, The. Not wholly satisfying (Tobey Maguire as a narrator eventually grates), but employs modern filmmaking nicely; Conan look-a-like Joel Edgerton a standout as "Tom Buchanan."

Hijacking, A. Less action-oriented but no less potent than "Captain Phillips"; both films offer some of the best acting of the year.

Identity Thief. A fun mall movie.

Iron Man 3. Manages to update itself just enough to seem original; one of the (very) few franchises for which I would welcome a fourth installment.

Machete Kills. The inspired moments come mostly in the last third and in the promise of a hilarious final installment.

Man of Steel. Well-mounted reboot with great effects, that manages to keep interest despite the necessity of the umpteenth superhero-origin stroy retelling.

Oz The Great and Powerful. Modern backstory is probably as good as could have been hoped for, with a solid story of how Oz came to be.

Saving Mr. Banks. "Prestige picture" of the year gets better as it goes, if never reaching the depth to which it aspires.

Stories We Tell. Warmly told.

This is the End. A fun, crazy little movie, with some admittedly obvious black comedy, that's nonetheless outweighed by the sheer audacity of the plot.

Upstream Color. The narrative is obscure and it's definitely not for all tastes, but it's a film for the 21st century, a bizarre but modern filmic trip.

Warm Bodies. Didn't distinguish itself beyond the clever premise, but worked well within it.

Wolf of Wall Street, The. ... if best seen as a crazy goof, with some entertaining-to-watch performances.

Skippable [27]:

12 Years A Slave. Widely-praised film doesn't get deep enough into characterization and is mostly a series of meant-to-be shock scenes.

Blue Is the Warmest Color. A contemporary love story with a remarkable leading lady is too slight plot-wise for its length, with unnecessarily graphic sex scenes.

Conjuring, The. Good, if not terribly original, old-fashioned spookfest with a nice eye on time & place.

Gangster Squad. Choppy.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. More like Hansel & Gretel: Inept Witch Hunters; if, an OK time waster.

Kings of Summer. Nicely filmed, but underdeveloped.

Lee Daniel's The Butler.  Old-fashioned; lengthy.

Mud. Lengthy story keeps your interest and is buoyed by a young-love romantic subplot, but it fades in the memory.

Nebraska. A little too determined to be a "small" movie.

Olympus Has Fallen. Equally implausible but dramatically better of the two similar '13 releases, the trade off is it's less "popcorn" fun than "White House Down."

Pacific Rim. The conceit was cool, but it was clumsily put together and quite hokey.

Parkland. Inherently interesting story is realistically filmed, but lacking flair.

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters. Pretty derivative this go-round; corny jokes don't help.

Place Beyond the Pines, The. Material that would have been better suited to a novel or miniseries; pay-off just wasn't there.

Prisoners. Somber, lengthy procedural with a bit of a Scooby-Doo ending.

Room 237. Hard to know if it's actually taking the interviewees' thin readings of "The Shining" seriously— but it does suggest that that's the actual point: we bring so much of ourselves into any movie experience.

Short Term 12. Never fully moves you, even if it comes close.

Side Effects. Not a bad little thriller, although I couldn't quite go along with the wrap up.

Spring Breakers. Messy.

Star Trek: Into Darkness. Hooey.

We're the Millers. Kinda inexplicable sleeper hit.

White House Down. Popcorn entertainment has forced plot points, but the set pieces are decent.

Wolverine, The. Bullet train action sequence is nearly enough in itself for a recommendation, but genre mixing is just too odd.

World War Z. Paint-by-numbers.

World's End, The. Original and energetic, but gets far too crazy to drive its meaning home.

Avoid [3]:

Good Day to Die Hard, A. Well, it used to be the perfect franchise.

Hangover, Part III, The. So good.

Instructions Not Included. I have to be honest: it's hopelessly sugary sweet, with a few oddly-timed "telenovela"-like moments.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Oscar Nominations 2013: My Thoughts

Unlike last year, there were few surprises in the nominations this morning. It was a nice mix though.  When AMPAS (inevitably) allows more than 5 nominees in each of the acting categories, the Oscars will become garbage.  Until that time, it's still a big deal to be nominated. Which brings me to my yearly rant: we don't need to have more than 5 Best Picture nominees.  How much better (and exclusive) would the list be if it were just (using Best Director as a guide): American Hustle, Gravity, Nebraska, 12 Years A Slave, and The Wolf of Wall Street?  How is it better to add: Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Her and Philomena to the list— three of which are there because they showcased great acting (and received the appropriate nominations in those categories [save perhaps the slighted Hanks])? Ranting over. (Well until I get to Best Song.) UPDATE: Now that I've seen Her I'm a little less grouchy about the list!! Even still, I hold to my belief that less is more.

OK, the biggest surprise is surely the love of The Wolf of Wall Street. Coincidentally, I was discussing this movie yesterday with one friend who was contemplating seeing it and another who told me that Leo would get nominated.  I told my friend who was thinking of seeing it that, in all it's excess, it's certainly a memorable movie, entertaining for sure, and very Scorsese (an "auteur" movie if there ever was one— if his credit didn't appear you'd know it was his).  I toyed with putting it in my top ten, but will probably resist even with the Oscar attention (this is the "danger" of not posting a top ten before the Oscar nominations: I'm thinking about it anyway!). My other friend who predicted the Leo nomination, I told no way— he always gets overlooked and it's a controversial movie.  I was wrong!! He is deserving (as is now-two-time nominee Jonah Hill).  I'm happy that Hill has received a nomination so quickly after Moneyball, to offset the Marisa Tomei-like "how-did-that-happen?" of his nomination for Moneyball.  (Tomei had to wait nearly ten years for her next nomination to erase the flukeness of her My Cousin Vinny win.)

Leo clearly took Tom Hanks' nomination away from him. And likely Hill took Hanks' Saving Mr. Banks supporting nomination slot.

Inevitably, there is the generally-speaking lead actor that gets shoved into the supporting category so as to get a nomination vote.  This year it's Barkhad Abdi who got it.  Yes, the movie is called Captain Phillips. But to call Abdi a supporting player is nonsense.  There were two male leads in that movie: it was the story of both of those characters.

Blue Jasmine surely deserved more nominations, and is a better movie than at least 6 of the 9 nominees, but happy Woody Allen got a screenplay nomination and Sally Hawkins got a supporting nomination in addition to the inevitable nomination for Cate Blanchett as Best Actress.  Three nominations (in major categories) ain't bad I guess.

I would have liked to have seen Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini get nominated for Enough Said, but it didn't happen.  Admittedly, there wasn't much room for them in the crowded acting categories.

Happy this morning: Julia Roberts, in her first nomination since she won for Erin Brockovich a dozen years ago; not-too-happy: Oprah Winfrey not nominated for Lee Daniel's The Butler— which received 0 nominations! (It didn't deserve any, really.)

American Hustle's four acting nominations give it a boost for winning Best Picture. It will be an odd Best Picture win, if that happens (it's more likely Gravity will start to gain momentum IMO).  Pulling off the all-acting-categories-sweep feat is not an easy task, as I noted last year when Silver Linings Playbook did it (at that time, the first since 1981s Reds).  Pretty cool that David O. Russell did it again with virtually the same cast.

No nomination for Robert Redford.  Not too shocking: it's been buzzless for quite a while now.  Inside Llewlyn Davis also got little attention (2 noms): although also not too much of a surprise. I was a bit surprised that Fruitvale Station didn't get anything, but again, not terribly surprised.

I'm so glad Judi Dench was nominated (although I didn't get to see Philomena: my biggest "missed it" regret 2013).  She was overlooked for Skyfall, and I'm glad she has a post-Bond nomination to her credit.

By the way, not quite sure how Before Midnight is an "adapted" screenplay.

And now for my annual Best Song rant.  Why, why, WHY do we have this category? It made sense when-- you know-- musicals were a popular genre (from the 1930s to the 70s).  Now it's the usual excuse to nominate big-name people in the music industry for songs nobody knows with the inevitable forced animated movie song picks.

I forgot to do my what-will-get-the-most-nominations prediction blog entry, but I probably would have said 12 Years A Slave, and would have been wrong— American Hustle and Gravity lead with ten each (Slave got nine).

As for the reading of the nominations?  When will the Academy ever learn NEVER ever ever to have the Academy president be a part of the broadcast.  Love that reading of "you may know them better as U2"-- what feeling!

The clapping for Ernest & Celestine as animated feature film was interesting: were there friends and or/the actual filmmakers there? Or will this be the upset for what I considered a two-picture race between Frozen and The Wind Rises? (Gold Derby had it pegged as sixth for a nomination, so maybe that was it.)

All in all, I think the Academy got it right.  Everyone always busts on the nominations.  Why? Because THEIR movie didn't get this or that, usually. But it seems to me that the Academy has, through it's history, always been pretty close to the mark. Yes, Citizen Kane didn't win Best Picture and Hitchcock never won for Best Director, yada yada (note: after all, Hitch got 5 career nominations and Kane was nominated for Best Picture). On the whole, was there really anything that wasn't included this year? Not really. A good list.

Looking forward to the awards!