Monthly Archives: January 2014

2013 Year in Review

As I did in 2012, it’s time to do a quick wrap-up of the year in movies, with the requisite top 10 list, some awards, some notable things, etc. To quote myself: I should say though that I only saw about 80 releases from 2013. So this isn’t some definitive “Best of 2013″ list, because how can I know unless I’ve seen all of what 2013 has to offer? I haven’t. These will be my personal favorites from what I did manage to see, and I think I saw more than a typical amateur filmgoer, but less than a respectable critic. And that’s pretty much what I am as a person — more than an amateur, less than respectable.

What haven’t I seen? You name it — POST TENEBRAS LUX, A TOUCH OF SIN, SHORT TERM 12, MUSEUM HOURS, THE GREAT BEAUTY, BEYOND THE HILLS, SOMETHING IN THE AIR, ENOUGH SAID, LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE, THE WIND RISES… see what I mean? Way too much I didn’t catch up with. And last year, I caught up with a film in March that I belatedly added to the list. So this may change.

2013 TOP TEN

1. BEFORE MIDNIGHT — Not that it’s really grown in my estimation since I saw it back in May. It’s just that no other movie I saw since was able to match it in terms of raw, visceral honesty. This film is about real human connection and the struggle to cement the identity of a relationship within a time and place. Every time I see BEFORE SUNRISE it gets better, but this film stands on its own as a brilliant portrait of a marriage. Not that I would know, or anything.

2. BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR — I just can’t shake that performance by Exarchopoulos. It’s radiant, and this film — if anything (though it is so much more) — is a testament to how engrossed an audience can be by world-class acting.

3. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS — A delicate, skipping record. You can almost hear the hisses and pops of the vinyl in each cut of the Coens’ imagery; but this is more than a nostalgic glimpse at ’60s folk music: it’s a portrait of the artist as a young malcontent.

4. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET — I spent my review praising DiCaprio’s towering movie star performance, but this is also high-wire entertainment on every level, with a heaping spoonful of licentious satire to boot.

5. DRUG WAR — Electricity on film.

6. FRANCES HA — So keenly observed and trenchant that you forget just how laugh-out-loud funny it is. Too bad for Gerwig she had to act in the same year as Exarchopoulos.

7. ALL IS LOST — I can hardly believe it got made, let alone distributed and so widely seen (and loved). Redford is good, but the storytelling is the star here. A shame this won’t get any Best Screenplay attention because of its lack of dialogue, but the way each of Redford’s obstacles are approached, tackled, and overcome is specific, creative, and surprising. Chandor is the real deal.

8. THE GRANDMASTER — So I did eventually see the Chinese cut on Blu-ray, and despite its improvements in structure and characterization, it didn’t have the impact it had on me in the theater. Nevertheless, this was one of my favorite big-screen experiences of the year. Nobody composes a shot like Wong.

9. SPRING BREAKERS — Certainly not for all tastes, but with 2013 spending so much time exposing the American Dream, this is the film that had the best handle on it; and ten months later I still can’t forget its visual style and the impact of its few miraculous setpieces.

10. GRAVITY — A lot of pieces written on this said “You MUST see it in 3-D; you’re missing out entirely if you don’t see this on the big screen in 3-D!” but it’s nearly impossible that all of these writers saw it in both 2-D and 3-D to make the comparison. How do they know it wasn’t effective in 2-D? Similarly, I can’t know what it was like in 3-D, but my big-screen 2-D experience was surely memorable and invigorating — and still communicated Cuaron’s storytelling themes with clarity.  [EDIT on Jan 14: I’ve now seen GRAVITY in 3-D as well, and while the visuals do look even better, the movie is still essentially the same experience — terrific, simple entertainment, with a problematic screenplay]

Didn’t Quite Make the Cut — But See Them Anyway: THE ACT OF KILLING, UPSTREAM COLOR, THE WORLD’S END

Flawed, But Underrated or Underseen — Give These Films a Chance: CRYSTAL FAIRY, AFTERSHOCK, OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, THIS IS THE END, COMPUTER CHESS, OLDBOY, IT’S A DISASTER, 2 GUNS, STORIES WE TELL, THE CONJURING

And now for my personal Oscars. I have no name for these awards. The Jokers? The PJH awards? The Zachs? Now taking suggestions…

Best Director — Joel & Ethan Coen, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

Best Actor — Leonardo DiCaprio, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

Best Actress — Adèle Exarchopoulos, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR

Best Supporting Actor — James Franco, SPRING BREAKERS

Best Supporting Actress — Lupita Nyong’o, 12 YEARS A SLAVE

Best Screenplay — [tie] J.C. Chandor, ALL IS LOST / Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig, FRANCES HA

You won’t see any Worst list from me for several reasons. I didn’t see most of the crap that came out because I don’t have to and I don’t want to. So aside from some pieces of dogshit I happened to see for one reason or another, my 10 Worst List would be the list of 10 movies I hoped or thought would be good enough for me to spend time watching the whole thing. Also, why be a hater. Also, why devote time to that stuff. Also, why rain on other people’s parades. If you liked STOKER or AMERICAN HUSTLE, then that’s great — we go to the movies to enjoy them, so who am I to tell you not to enjoy them (even if they suck, haha).

So that’s that; please add comments to the comment section with anything I forgot, overlooked, got wrong, or otherwise. Or you can always find me on Twitter (@TwinCinema). Thanks for reading Private Joker’s Head. Let’s see what 2014 brings us…

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Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues — 5/10

ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES (2013, Adam McKay)

Listen to any interview with Adam McKay and you will do a double take at how insightful, intelligent, and heavily politically-minded he is. As the director of low-brow, dumbed-down goofs like TALLADEGA NIGHTS and STEP BROTHERS (which are still funny, but not exactly clever), you might think he’s a philistine frat boy — but as THE OTHER GUYS’s political corruption subplot proves, he has subversion on his mind. Never has that instinct been so bald as it is here: he spends most of ANCHORMAN 2’s bloated 2-hour running time (and boy does it drag — people complain about THE WOLF OF WALL STREET’s three hours, but this movie feels twice as long) slaughtering the Fox Newsification of cable news in general. In a series of heavy-handed setpieces, McKay and his Ferrell-led team of loud actors tear into the 24-hr coverage infecting television today — car chases, too many graphics, lurid stories, celebrity culture, pointless lists (Paul Rudd’s “#2 vagina of all time” is Madam Curie’s), etc. — and as obvious as it is, it’s the funniest thing about the movie.

I tend to be in the minority about the other comedy here, the stuff on the fringes. Steve Carell doesn’t make me laugh when he makes funny faces or laughs loudly (though his delivery of the line “Want to go to a date?” did), and Will Ferrell’s lazy improv-ish recipe of Obscure Name+Scatalogical Reference=Joke (e.g. “Tony Danza’s scrotum!” “By the bedpan of Bea Arthur!” etc.) is repetitive and shallow. He uses too many crutches and not enough smarts. But if people like that stuff, cool. I mean, I go for Danny McBride (star of Ferrell and McKay’s terrific show Eastbound & Down) so who am I to judge dick jokes.

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American Hustle — 3/10

AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013, David O. Russell)

Artifice. It’s a huge part of whatever David O. Russell is trying to do in this sloppy, disjointed misfire — in the opening scene, the handsome Christian Bale has a gut the size of the Batmobile and is gluing on a combover wig. From that nail-hammering beginning, we keep getting scenes about artifice; and that’s just in the content (fraudulent impersonations, scam deals, Hispanics pretending to be Arab, government officials engaging in corruption, etc.) — to say nothing of the fact that its leads are a British actor playing an American with a thick New York accent and an American actress playing an American putting on a phony British accent.

But it’s because of Russell’s obsession with phoniness that this entire charade plays like a cheap, repugnant school play. The entire cast is stuck playing dress-up and pretend — Jeremy Renner looks like an actor excited to be in a movie about the ’70s; Jennifer Lawrence ditches Katniss for a trashy audition reel, and Amy Adams’s side boob gets most of the screen time while the face somewhere above it is in a histrionic meltdown as if each scene was done as a dare to be more emotionally volcanic than the previous one. But never once are these people recognizably human — it’s like we’re watching the dailies of a movie about movies, right down to the camera moves ripped off from BOOGIE NIGHTS and GOODFELLAS. And this is before Robert De Niro shows up to cash in another check for playing a smarmy wiseguy. Oh yeah, and I think Bradley Cooper is in the film — but you wouldn’t know it because isn’t he supposed to possess some amount of on-screen charisma?

Russell couldn’t care less about the true story this movie pretends to adapt — in fact, the opening title says “Some of these things actually happened.” One thing that didn’t happen is a decent screenplay getting written. While the cast drowns in a summer camp production of Weren’t The ’70s Full Of Funny Clothes, the audience is left wondering why these pieces are supposed to fit together — how can Russell be saying anything about America and its grand history of fakery if the world he presents is so unrecognizably non-American and unrealistic? The point is tough to miss, especially when there are at least two scenes where J-Law gets to pontificate about a nail polish that smells nice but is made of something nasty; but it’s a point lost in the morass of a nearly unwatchable slog splattered with manic scenes that stink like polyester left in an attic. At one point Bale shows Cooper a forged painting and says the reproduction is so convincing that you wonder, “Who’s the real master: the artist, or the forger?” The answer is clear. It isn’t the forger in this case. Anyone with two eyes can tell this picture is a phony.

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