LISTFUL THINKING: Most Anticipated Films of 2015

2 01 2015

Well, time to usher in 2015.  It certainly looks to be another good year of movies with plenty of great actors and directors gearing up with compelling new projects.  And, if you’re a franchise lover, this year ought to be nirvana.

So, here’s a year-beginning top 10 list.  Normally, these do not even come close to lining up with my year end list.  In both 2013 and 2014, only two films from the list were in my final top 10.

It is entirely likely that one or more of these films will not be finished in time for release in 2015 – I mainly worry about “Silence,” which has yet to begin production and will likely be a massive endeavor – so I’ll offer up a few honorable mentions and some 2014 festival holdovers that have yet to be released.

2014 HOLDOVERS: I’m not quite sure what year to file “Maps to the Stars” under given that Julianne Moore was nominated for a Golden Globe this year, but I’ll certainly be glad to see it on VOD (February 27). “While We’re Young” (March 27) looks like an incredibly promising follow-up to “Frances Ha” for Noah Baumbach.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Just outside the list is Derek Cianfrance’s “The Light Between Oceans” (TBD), which teams the director of “Blue Valentine” and “The Place Beyond the Pines” with perhaps the most exciting working actor, Michael Fassbender.  The McConaissance looks to continue in “Sea of Trees” (TBD), a collaboration with Gus Van Sant.

I am sure in a year with two Pixar movies, “Inside Out” (June 19) and “The Good Dinosaur” (November 25), one of them will be decent. And ok, fine, I guess I’ll get somewhat excited for “Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens” (December 18).

That's What I'm Talking About

#10
“That’s What I’m Talking About” (TBD)
Written and directed by Richard Linklater

Despite all the adoration being heaped upon Richard Linklater after “Boyhood,” the director churns out a “Me & Orson Welles” about as often as he churns out a “Before Midnight.”  I remain cautiously optimistic about his next film, a spiritual cousin to “Dazed and Confused,” which is set in a Texas college in the 1980s and somehow involves a baseball team.  I’m not the biggest fan of “Dazed,” but I’ll definitely be awaiting this one.

Knight of Cups

#9
“Knight of Cups” (TBD)
Written and directed by Terrence Malick
Starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, and Natalie Portman

How can any film lover not eagerly anticipate whatever Terrence Malick has cooked up next?  The trailer for “Knight of Cups” was certainly … interesting.  This could be a profound meditation on fame or a Sofia Coppola film made on quaaludes.  Either way, I’m excited to see him work with Oscar winners like Bale, Blanchett, and Portman.  (No offense, Olga Kurylenko.)

The Intern

#8
“The Intern” (September 25)
Written and directed by Nancy Meyers
Starring Anne Hathaway, Robert DeNiro, and Rene Russo

Make fun of me all you want, but I absolutely adore all of Nancy Meyers’ movies.  My family stops to watch “Father of the Bride” and “The Parent Trap” each time they are on TV, and I thought “It’s Complicated” was a laugh riot.  That was six years ago, so it’s time for her to make a new movie.  The concept of an adult intern seems a little beneath her (not to mention kind of taken by “The Internship“), but I have faith that she’ll provide a potent blend of humor and heart like always.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler acting during film of their new movie The Nest

#7
“Sisters” (December 18)
Directed by Jason Moore
Written by Paula Pell
Starring Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Maya Rudolph

TINA FEY AND AMY POEHLER IN A MOVIE TOGETHER AGAIN.  This is not a drill, people!  Sure, they’ve hosted the Golden Globes and both cameoed in “Anchorman 2.”  But this is them co-starring in a movie together.  I’m just going to have to watch “Baby Mama” ten times this year to mentally prepare myself.

Revenant

#6
“The Revenant” (December 25)
Written and directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and Domhnall Gleeson

I did not drink the “Birdman” Kool-Aid quite as much as others, but there is no denying that Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu is making bold, risky cinema.  His next film, shot this fall, brings together Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.  That pairing just needed to happen, first of all.  Iñárritu also requested additional funding so he could shoot the film in sequence, a somewhat odd insistence that has me wondering why it was necessary.  Perhaps to procure that first Oscar for DiCaprio?

Macbeth

#5
“Macbeth” (TBD)
Directed by Justin Kurzel
Written by Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, and Todd Louiso
Starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, and David Thewlis

I am not necessarily a big Shakespeare dork, but Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are two of the meatiest characters in all of fiction.  Watching Fassbender and Cotillard inhabit them should be nothing short of thrilling.  (They are also directed by Justin Kurzel, whose last feature, “The Snowtown Murders,” needs to be placed at the top of your Netflix queue immediately.)

Midnight Special

#4
“Midnight Special” (November 25)
Written and directed by Jeff Nichols
Starring Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, and Adam Driver

A big-budget studio sci-fi film directed by the guy who gave us 2013’s indie smash “Mud.”  Hmmm.  I think this could establish Jeff Nichols as the next Christopher Nolan or Steven Spielberg if all goes well.

FFN_IMAGE_51471858|FFN_SET_60081353

#3
“Untitled Woody Allen Project” (TBD)
Written and directed by Woody Allen
Starring Emma Stone, Joaquin Phoenix, and Parker Posey

A new Woody Allen film is always reason to rejoice.  But this year’s installment features an odd yet intriguing pairing: Joaquin Phoenix and  Emma Stone, Allen’s new female muse.  There is some kind of teacher-student relationship at the heart of the film, which does sound a little clichéd.  Still, to watch those two act opposite each other ought to be a show.

Silence

#2
“Silence” (November)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Jay Cocks
Starring Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, and Adam Driver

For decades, Scorsese’s work has dealt both directly and indirectly with his Catholic heritage.  With his passion project, “Silence,” religion takes center stage with a story about Jesuit priests in Japan.  Shockingly, Scorsese had to come beg for funds at Cannes for the film; you would think by this point, he could just get a check to make whatever he wants.  It has still yet to shoot, so hopefully the final project is not so rushed that it turns out as sloppily self-indulgent as “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

Joy

#1
“Joy” (December 25)
Directed by David O. Russell
Written by Annie Mumolo
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert DeNiro

At this point, David O. Russell could direct Jennifer Lawrence reading a calculus textbook, and I would still buy a ticket.  (And it would probably get her an Oscar nomination.)  I’m not quite sure what they see in the story of the inventor of the Miracle Mop, but I am excited to see how they simultaneously find laughter and drama in it.

What movies are YOU excited to see in 2015?  Any of these?!  If you’re just dying to see “Avengers 2,” I guess we can still be friends…

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LISTFUL THINKING: Top 10 of 2014 (The Self-Aware One)

31 12 2014

Boyhood stillAnother year gone by, and what an odd and largely unremarkable one (at least for me).  That’s not to say, however, that there were not plenty of good movies to see.  Between two years – this and last – packed with film festivals as well as a summer living in Los Angels, I have racked up a shamefully high film count for 2014.

The final tally: 154.  That’s a gain of over 50% from just two years ago.  And, mind you, I still have many left to see, although only “Selma” and “American Sniper” would likely have ended up on this list.  Impressively, I have actually managed to review all of them (including one for “A Most Violent Year” which irksomely has to be held another month).

I usually try to tie my year-end top 10 list around a theme or a unifying idea, and this year is no different.  At the beginning of the month, my films were essentially set (sadly), but I could not for the life of me find a correlation or angle.  Then, I read a rather snarky piece by Anne Thompson of IndieWire called “How to Make a Ten Best List in Five Easy Steps.”

Thompson is a highly regarded entertainment reporter, and I value her insight on industry news that provides more thorough coverage than the click-bait titles.  At times, though, I find her writing contains a certain aura of superiority that verges on haughtiness.  In this reductionist list, which I believe is meant to be in jest to some degree, here are some of her suggestions for top 10 building:

“1. Include a selection of brainy consensus critical faves of the sort that are likely to be Oscar contenders.

2. Add a few popular hits as well to show that you click with the mainstream.

3. Add at least one wild blue yonder arcane title, either foreign or up-and-coming indie, that will leave readers scratching their heads, impressed with your erudition. This proves that you saw way more movies than they did.”

Pike Affleck Gone GirlI dismissed the piece at first, and then I told myself that such blind herd mentality was something to which I was not susceptible.  I don’t normally drink the Kool-Aid and tow the critics/bloggers party line – I picked “Win Win” and “The Queen of Versailles” as my favorites of their respective years, for heaven’s sake!

Yet I could not shake Thompson’s piece off, for whatever reason.  I kept thinking about it and realized that my top picks for the year might not match up with a ton of external validators, but they did meet a certain set of internal criteria.  As it turns out, I do have a couple of favorite “types” that rear their heads in my annual top 10 list.  These are not necessarily genres or styles of filmmaking so much as they are experiences.

So, without further ado, my extremely self-aware top 10 films of 2014.  I hope no one is incredibly offended by me reducing these films to merely what they meant to me, but if you want to read a pure assessment of their merits, click on the title to be taken to my original review.

Read the rest of this entry »





LISTFUL THINKING: 2013 Superlatives

2 03 2014

It’s hard to believe every year (though perhaps not as hard this year given the prolonged season), but it’s time to close the book on 2013 in film.  The Oscars will have their say, and then history will either smile or frown on their decision.  No matter the outcome, tonight ought to be an exciting exclamation point on a fantastic year in film.   But remember, their favorite movie does not do anything to change YOUR favorite and whatever it may mean to you.

So in that spirit, I give out my superlatives, both the good, the bad, and everything in between!

MOVIES

Amy Adams

The Best

  1. “American Hustle”
  2. Stories We Tell
  3. “Spring Breakers”
  4. “The Past”
  5. “Inside Llewyn Davis”
  6. Blue Jasmine
  7. Philomena
  8. “12 Years a Slave”
  9. The Hunt
  10. “Enough Said”

Spectacular Now

The Worst

  1. Post Tenebras Lux
  2. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
  3. The Butler
  4. The Hangover Part III
  5. Jobs
  6. The Internship
  7. Prince Avalanche
  8. See Girl Run
  9. The Spectacular Now
  10. Man of Steel

The Purge

Surprising

  1. Philomena
  2. The Purge
  3. Drinking Buddies
  4. “Spring Breakers”
  5. Stories We Tell

Anchorman 2

Disappointing

  1. The Hangover Part III
  2. Only God Forgives
  3. Gangster Squad
  4. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
  5. Trance

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY

Forgettable

  1. What Maisie Knew
  2. “Cutie & The Boxer”
  3. The Invisible Woman
  4. “Stoker”
  5. Violet & Daisy
  6. “Parkland”
  7. Admission
  8. The Company You Keep
  9. The Iceman
  10. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Emma Watson in The Bling Ring

Rewatchable

  1. “American Hustle”
  2. “Spring Breakers”
  3. The Bling Ring
  4. “Enough Said”
  5. Blue Jasmine

Before Midnight

Glad to See Once … But Never Again

  1. The Wolf of Wall Street
  2. Fruitvale Station
  3. Lone Survivor
  4. Before Midnight
  5. Blackfish

Gatsby

Underrated

  1. The Great Gatsby
  2. Lone Survivor
  3. “The Book Thief”
  4. The Way Way Back
  5. The Kings of Summer

Blue is the Warmest

Overrated

  1. The Act of Killing
  2. Blue is the Warmest Color
  3. Mud
  4. 20 Feet From Stardom
  5. Gravity

Frances Ha

Better Over Time

  1. Blue Jasmine
  2. “Inside Llewyn Davis”
  3. “Spring Breakers”
  4. “The Past”
  5. Frances Ha

The Place Beyond the Pines

Worse Over Time

  1. Fruitvale Station
  2. The Spectacular Now
  3. “To The Wonder”
  4. The Place Beyond the Pines
  5. The Butler

Catching Fire

Felt Shorter

  1. “American Hustle”
  2. “12 Years a Slave”
  3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  4. “Enough Said”
  5. “Warm Bodies”

Man of Steel

Felt Longer

  1. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
  2. The Act of Killing
  3. The Great Beauty
  4. Man of Steel
  5. I’m So Excited

ACTING

Inside Llewyn Davis

Breakout Performances

  1. Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
  2. Oscar Isaac, “Inside Llewyn Davis”
  3. Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips
  4. Brie Larson, “Short Term 12”
  5. Tye Sheridan, “Mud

The Way Way Back

Breakthrough Performances

  1. Greta Gerwig, “Frances Ha
  2. Joel Edgerton, “The Great Gatsby
  3. Dane DeHaan, “The Place Beyond the Pines
  4. Olivia Wilde, “Drinking Buddies
  5. Sam Rockwell, “The Way Way Back

Sean Penn and Josh Brolin

Breakdown Performances

  1. Sean Penn, “Gangster Squad
  2. Jonah Hill, “The Wolf of Wall Street
  3. Rachel Weisz, “Oz the Great and Powerful”
  4. Ashton Kutcher, “Jobs
  5. John Goodman, “The Hangover Part III

McConaughey

Best Body of Work

Matthew McConaughey, “Mud“/”Dallas Buyers Club”/”The Wolf of Wall Street

Worst Body of Work

Michael Shannon, “The Iceman“/”Man of Steel

Identity Thief

Most Similar Body of Work

  1. Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Great Gatsby“/”The Wolf of Wall Street
  2. Melissa McCarthy, “Identity Thief“/”The Hangover Part III“/”The Heat

This is the End

Most Disparate Body of Work

  1. James Franco, “Oz the Great and Powerful”/”Spring Breakers”/”This Is The End“/”As I Lay Dying”
  2. Bradley Cooper, “The Place Beyond the Pines“/”The Hangover Part III“/”American Hustle”

Nail polish

Best Ensemble

“American Hustle”

Worst Ensemble

“Oz the Great and Powerful”

Kristin Scott Thomas in Only God Forgives

Best Performance in a Bad Movie

Kristin Scott Thomas, “Only God Forgives

Worst Performance in a Good Movie

Paul Dano, “12 Years a Slave”

Olaf

Needed More Screen Time

  1. Carey Mulligan, “Inside Llewyn Davis”
  2. Josh Gad, “Frozen
  3. Matthew McConaughey, “The Wolf of Wall Street
  4. Emma Watson, “This Is The End“/”The Bling Ring
  5. June Squibb, “Nebraska

Oprah

Needed Less Screen Time

  1. Colin Farrell, “Saving Mr. Banks
  2. Steve Carell, “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
  3. Terrence Howard, “The Butler
  4. Olivia Wilde, “Rush
  5. Ken Jeong, “The Hangover Part III

Blue Jasmine

Most Obvious Casting

  1. Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine
  2. Emma Thompson, “Saving Mr. Banks
  3. Sean Penn, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
  4. Tina Fey, “Admission
  5. Shailene Woodley, “The Spectacular Now

Least Obvious Casting

  1. Will Forte, “Nebraska
  2. Ellen Page, “The East
  3. Amy Adams,”Man of Steel
  4. Sandra Bullock, “Gravity
  5. Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Most Random Casting

  1. Taran Killam, “12 Years a Slave”
  2. Catherine Keener, “Captain Phillips
  3. Jerry Ferrara, “Lone Survivor
  4. Spike Jonze, “The Wolf of Wall Street
  5. Christopher Meloni, “Man of Steel

7) Philomena

Best Hero

Judi Dench, “Philomena

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Worst Hero

Forest Whitaker, “The Butler

Fassbender

Best Villain

Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave”

Worst Villain

Guy Pearce, “Iron Man 3

JLaw AH

Best Comedic Performance

Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”

Worst Comedic Performance

Zach Galifianakis, “The Hangover Part III

Best Cameo

(tie) Channing Tatum, “This Is The End” and Robert DeNiro, “American Hustle”

Worst Cameo

Leonard Nimoy, “Star Trek Into Darkness

OTHERS

Abdi

Best Lines

  1. “Look at all my s–t!” – Spring Breakers
  2. “Maybe all we have in life are poisonous, f—ed up choices.” – American Hustle
  3. “I wanna rob.” – The Bling Ring
  4. “I’m the captain now.” – Captain Phillips
  5. “Take yo panties off!” – This Is The End

5) Inside Llewyn Davis

Best Singing

  1. Oscar Isaac, “Hang Me, Oh, Hang Me,” Inside Llewyn Davis
  2. Keith Stanfield, “So You Know What It’s Like,” Short Term 12
  3. Craig Robinson feat. Rihanna, “Take Yo Panties Off,” This Is The End
  4. Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak, “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” Saving Mr. Banks
  5. “Baby One More Time,” Spring Breakers

Best Worst Singing

  1. James Franco, “Everytime,” Spring Breakers

Best Karaoke

  1. Jennifer Lawrence, “Live and Let Die,” American Hustle

Worst Karaoke

  1. Ken Jeong, “Hurt,” The Hangover Part III

American Hustle

Best Music Montage

  1. “I Can’t Stop,” The Great Gatsby
  2. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” American Hustle
  3. “Modern Love,” Frances Ha
  4. “Crown on the Ground,” The Bling Ring
  5. “The Moon Song,” Her

Worst Music Montage

“Mrs. Robinson,” The Wolf of Wall Street





LISTFUL THINKING: Most Anticipated Movies of 2014

2 01 2014

I’m still not quite ready to admit that it’s 2014 yet.  Heck, I still have stacks and stacks of 2013 reviews to write.  (Not to mention loads of outstanding reviews dating back to 2009…)  But these 10 movies give me something to look forward to – and I’m sure this is only scratching the surface.  So much of the fun of following and watching movies is finding fun surprises throughout the year.

Most of my top 10 list of 2013 did not come from my most anticipated films of 2013.  In fact, only two did.  But waiting for these films will keep me occupied while the best films of the year do come along.

HONORABLE MENTION

I’m hoping for good things from “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” after 2011’s superb “Rise” successfully rebooted the franchise.  And even though “Mockingjay” was my least favorite book in the “Hunger Games” franchise, the vigor of the “Catching Fire” movie has me excited.  Brad Pitt’s WWII flick “Fury,” helmed by “End of Watch” director ought to be promising for Oscars and entertainment.

Tammy

#10
“Tammy” (July 2)
Directed by Ben Falcone
Written by Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, and and Dan Aykroyd

Ok, I’ll admit I know almost nothing about this movie.  But if Melissa McCarthy could make “Identity Thief” bearable and “The Heat” pretty hilarious in spite of its lackluster plot, then I can really get excited about a project she wrote with her husband.  Yes, her husband was Air Marshal John from “Bridesmaids,” and he’s also serving as co-writer and director.  Should be a hilarious highlight of the summer.

The Fault in Our Stars

#9
“The Fault in Our Stars” (June 6)
Directed by Josh Boone
Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber
Starring Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, and Willem Dafoe

I read this book in three days this fall.  I’m not saying it was great, but I just couldn’t put it down.  And now I can’t wait to see the movie because I know I’m going to cry like a baby.  (It’s about teenage cancer patients, in case you didn’t know.)  The book almost had me sobbing, which is something only “Where the Red Fern Grows” has accomplished in my life.

Foxcatcher

#8
“Foxcatcher” (TBD)
Directed by Bennett Miller
Written by Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye
Starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo

Bennett Miller’s “Moneyball” has continued to grow on me over the past two years, and there’s something oddly intriguing about his follow-up, “Foxcatcher.”  Check out the trailer if you want to see how strange and unconventional it appears to be.  Something tells me he’s going to get shocking career-best work from Carell and Tatum.

Noah

#7
“Noah” (March 28)
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Written by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel
Starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, and Anthony Hopkins

So the trailer might have been slightly underwhelming, and the supposed studio interference has me a little worried.  But this Darren Freaking Aronofsky’s follow-up to “Black Swan.”  It’s the Bible as we’ve never seen it before, according to the Oscar-nominated director.  And he must be onto something because there are now multiple Biblical epics in the pipelines at various Hollywood studios…

Jersey Boys

#6
“Jersey Boys” (June 20)
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by John Logan and Rick Elice
Starring John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, and Christopher Walken

Clint Eastwood hasn’t exactly been on a hot streak as of late (hello, “Hereafter” and “J. Edgar“), but maybe a change in the tenor of his material will bring out the 2-time Oscar winner’s best.  He’s working with some brilliant source material in “Jersey Boys,” which is still one of my favorite Broadway shows.  Those who don’t love the stage musical format should take comfort in knowing the jukebox style lends itself to a much more cinematically friendly transfer.

Transcendence

#5
“Transcendence” (April 18)
Directed by Wally Pfister
Written by Jack Paglen
Starring Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, and Kate Mara

Christopher Nolan’s films, in particular “The Dark Knight” and “Inception,” have been immaculately lensed by Wally Pfister.  Now, he’s decided to sit in the director’s chair, and he’s brought along Nolan stalwarts Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy for his debut.  The trailer sure looks great – certainly unlike anything else I’ve ever seen.

Inherent Vice

#4
“Inherent Vice” (TBD)
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, and Josh Brolin

Hopefully this one does in fact see a release in 2014, but I’m certainly curious to how on earth Paul Thomas Anderson plans to top “The Master.”  Re-teaming with Joaquin Phoenix is a promising start.  The bold filmmaker’s decision to tackle the difficult prose of novelist Thomas Pynchon means we could be in for another quite enigmatic film … and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

22 Jump Street

#3
“22 Jump Street” (June 13)
Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Written by Michael Bacall, Rodney Rothman, and Oren Uziel
Starring Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, and Ice Cube

21 Jump Street” is probably my favorite comedy of the 2010s, so you can imagine my delight when they announced a sequel that sends Jenko and Schmidt to college.  The first trailer was phenomenal.  Hopefully it’s not the extent of the film’s laughs.

Gone Girl

#2
“Gone Girl” (October 3)
Directed by David Fincher
Written by Gillian Flynn
Starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, and Tyler Perry

I read “Gone Girl” essentially in a day over the summer, and I cannot wait to see how Fincher brings it to life.  It seems like a very happy median between the verbal ping-pong of “The Social Network” and the darkness of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it makes a star out of Rosamund Pike, whose talents I’ve been touting since “An Education.”

Interstellar

#1
“Interstellar” (November 7)
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, and Jessica Chastain

Christopher Nolan is releasing a new movie.  That ought to be all I have to say, even though my disappointment still continues to grow over “The Dark Knight Rises.”  The fact that he’s assembled McConaughey, Hathaway, and Chastain, along with Michael Caine, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, and Ellen Burstyn for the film is encouraging (even if the first teaser wasn’t).





LISTFUL THINKING: The Top 10 Films of 2013

1 01 2014

Normally, I can come up with a unifying theme for my top 10 list.  But this year, I really struggled to find a common thread or through-line.  Ironically, even in the absence of some sort of angle for this piece, I would still consider 2013 to be the best year for movies in a long time, at least since 2010.

I suppose one commonality amongst this list is unforgettable characters.  The best cinema of the year entertained, engaged, and enlightened by bringing people to life before our eyes.  As they negotiated everything from familial regret (Philomena Lee) to career frustrations (Llewyn Davis) and even false enslavement (Solomon Northrup), their conflicts became real to me, captured my imagination, and hijacked my thoughts.

Though 2013 is over, my dealing with these films and characters is far from finished.  I will continue to wonder if Llewyn Davis will ever achieve success, if Ritchie DiMasso deserved to be screwed over, if Jasmine is primarily responsible for her own breakdown, if Lucas can ever return to any semblance of normality in his life, and if Epps is just pure evil at his core.

Without further ado, here are the 10 best films of 2013…

10) Enough Said

#10
“Enough Said”
Starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, and Catherine Keener
Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener

A well-known cliché regarding great comedic actors is that they could somehow make reading the phonebook hilarious.  Julia Louis-Dreyfus would not even have to utter a single word of the phonebook to have me in stitches; just a contortion of the brilliantly expressive musculature in her face makes me laugh.  In her first live-action role on the silver screen this millennium, she is the perfect vessel for writer/director Nicole Holofocener’s humor in an insightful look at the way people act against their own interests and desires in the name of self-preservation.  Intimately scaled and brilliantly observed, “Enough Said” makes for 90 minutes of the most perfectly realized cinema this year.

9) The Hunt

#9
The Hunt
Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, and Annika Wedderkopp
Written by Tobias Lindholm and Thomas Vinterberg
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg

I first saw “The Hunt” almost 20 months ago at the Cannes Film Festival, and ever since, I have known it would make my top 10 list.  So needless to say, I’ve been waiting a long time (thanks for that release delay, Magnolia).  It speaks to the strength of the cinema in 2013 that had “The Hunt” been released in 2012, it probably would have topped my list of the year’s best.  Still, this drama of an innocent man put through the ringer stands high and mighty in 2013 thanks to the brilliant performance of Mads Mikkelsen, a screenplay that would make Arthur Miller proud, and the steady direction of Thomas Vinterberg.

8) 12 Years a Slave

#8
“12 Years a Slave”
Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, and Lupita Nyong’o
Written by John Ridley
Directed by Steve McQueen

After making “Shame,” which I firmly believe will be seen as a defining film of the decade for tackling the largely unrecognized pervasiveness of sexuality in society, there was really nothing else the unflinching camera of Steve McQueen could capture except the brutality of American slavery.  What he creates in “12 Years a Slave” is a brilliant hybrid of an art film with a traditional historical narrative movie, clearly communicating a story for all viewers with haunting complimentary imagery.  It’s a film so powerful that it does not just remind us that we need to talk about slavery – it somehow makes us want to talk about slavery.

7) Philomena

#7
“Philomena”
Starring Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, and Sophie Kennedy Clark
Written by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
Directed by Stephen Frears

Perhaps the unlikeliest (or at least the most unanticipated) entry on my list, “Philomena” screamed cringe-worthy Oscar bait from its premise.  Yet it pulls off the year’s strangest high-wire act thanks to Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope’s tonally masterful screenplay, managing to be at once funny and tragic while always touching the heart.  Though the movie makes a play for your emotions, it never feels cloying.  Rather, you just embrace Philomena the character played with infectious warmth and forgiveness by Judi Dench and “Philomena” the film all the more.

6) Blue Jasmine

#6
Blue Jasmine
Starring Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, and Bobby Cannavale
Written and directed by Woody Allen

I’ve seen every Woody Allen film, for better or for worse, and I don’t think he’s written a character as complex as Jasmine since Annie Hall herself.  And that was so heavily based on Diane Keaton, so he along with a fearless Cate Blanchett are discovering and creating in “Blue Jasmine.”  No movie has stuck with me more throughout the year than this one; the question of social forces vs. personal agency in Jasmine’s demise haunting my thoughts so much that I paid an obscene amount to see it again four months later.  The debate over her fall from grace will rage on forever, but no discussion is necessary to settle the claim that Jasmine has the right to stand next to such complex female characters as Blanche of “A Streetcar Named Desire” and Nora of “A Doll’s House.”

5) Inside Llewyn Davis

#5
“Inside Llewyn Davis”
Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, and John Goodman
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

I’ve always been a fan of the Coen Brothers, but it took “Inside Llewyn Davis” to make me truly come to terms with just how incredible they are.  Masters of their form with an unrivaled attention to detail in this era, they have bottled up their essence and transported it to the nascent stage of the 1960s folk music scene.  Featuring what might be the best soundtrack since – well, maybe even the Coen Brothers’ 2000 “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” – and a stunning lead performance by Oscar Isaac, the latest entry to their remarkable canon may appear slight at first glance.  But look a little harder into their script, which is just as carefully constructed as every shot in the film.

4) The Past

#4
“The Past”
Starring Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, and Ali Mosaffa
Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi

Asghar Farhadi set an unfairly high bar for himself with the consummate “A Separation,” and he scales those heights again with “The Past.”  He once again shows his incredible command and understanding of human behavior, crafting characters with complex emotions and intricate facades to conceal their transgressions.  Everyone acts on multiple levels of motivation, and it’s searingly gripping to observe their worlds unravel.  Farhadi uses the searing realness of these characters, especially Berenice Bejo’s Marie, to show how the past influences and clouds not only the present but also the future.  These are hardly groundbreaking themes, but Farhadi’s impeccable knack for realism makes them worth reconsidering not only in the context of the film but in our own lives as well.

3) Spring Breakers

#3
“Spring Breakers”
Starring James Franco, Selena Gomez, and Vanessa Hudgens
Written and directed by Harmony Korine

I’ve been hesitant to write anything about “Spring Breakers” all year, partially because I don’t think my words can do it justice but subconsciously because I don’t want to demystify it.  The film came over me like a haze or a stupor, took me on the trip of a lifetime, and then released me in slack-jawed awe.  It’s a genius look at the way sex, drugs, and violence intersect in contemporary culture, filmed in simultaneous beauty and grime.  Korine somehow manages to criticize the dark underpinnings of the spring break mentality while also capturing the almost spiritual allure it has.  Misunderstood and misread as pure glorification by many, I’m proud to be a “Spring Breakers” fanatic since the first time I saw it.  I look forward to watching this become a cult classic and a landmark film for my generation.  Spring break forevaaaaa

2) Stories We Tell

#2
Stories We Tell
Directed by Sarah Polley

The year’s most audacious boundary-pushing achievement, “Stories We Tell” is a beautiful documentary that tests the limits of the fiction/non-fiction binary that is currently established.  As director Sarah Polley probes her own story, she finds chaos and confusion amidst the many competing narratives of the past.  Somehow, she manages to find rhyme and reason to it all, presenting all the recollections of her late mother Diane in one giant story that reveals the large gap in between reality as we experience it and the way we ultimately remember and retell it.  Yet somewhere in that hole, she gets at the core of what makes us human, a true treasure gleaned from what could have been a family album.

1) American Hustle

#1
“American Hustle”
Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Bradley Cooper
Written by David O. Russell and Eric Singer
Directed by David O. Russell

The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook” showed us that David O. Russell had a mastery of coaching performance, and “American Hustle” is elevated to the realm of the sublime because Russell uses that understanding to create the ultimate performances of performance.  Everyone in the film is playing multiple games and shuffling between multiple identities to get what they want, yet their success comes with an accompanying yearning for a truly real human connection.  Though the characters may groove to Donna Summer and sport comb-overs or perms, this 1970s drama connects to the realities and anxieties of 2013, where many of us interact through various social media profiles and avatars in order to replicate but also mediate and mitigate real relationships.  But this is hardly a somber meditation on the present era, rather an observation of basic human nature: we’re conning, hustling, and BS-ing everyone – including and especially ourselves.  And while you chew this over, Russell will have you grinning from ear to ear as his movie brims over with joy.





LISTFUL THINKING: 10 Performers Who Will Win Oscars in the Next 10 Years

26 02 2013

Before it’s too late and no longer topical, I wanted to share a list that has been floating in my mind for a while.  On Sunday night, the Academy welcomed Jennifer Lawrence and Anne Hathaway into their club.  Now, they can join Daniel Day-Lewis and Christoph Waltz in adding the phrase “Oscar Winner” before their name is mentioned.

But within the next 10 years, who will join them in the pantheon of acting?  I have a few suggestions…

Male

Gatsby

Leonardo DiCaprio
3 Oscar nominations
9 Golden Globe nominations, 1 win
8 SAG Award nominations

COMMENTARY:  The question isn’t “if.”  It’s “when.”  And that could be as early as this year.

JGL

Joseph Gordon-Levitt
2 Golden Globe nominations
4 SAG Award nominations

COMMENTARY:  With the boy-next-door turning into a renaissance man as he heads behind the director’s chair, JGL is headed towards golden child status.  Now it’s just time for the Oscars to catch up.

Ryan Gosling in The Ides of March

Ryan Gosling
1 Oscar nomination
4 Golden Globe nominations
2 SAG Award nominations

COMMENTARY:  I don’t really think I need to elaborate here as Gosling is one of the emerging Hollywood leading men.  The only thing keeping him from an Oscar, in my mind, is his eclectic role selection.

Brad Pitt in Moneyball

Brad Pitt
4 Oscar nominations (3 as actor)
5 Golden Globe nominations, 1 win
5 SAG Award nominations, 1 win

COMMENTARY:  As one of the highest-wattage stars of the past decade moves into a slower, more retrospective phase of his career, the role that will land Brad Pitt his Oscar should materialize.

George Clooney

George Clooney
8 Oscar nominations (4 for acting), 2 wins (1 for acting)
12 Golden Globe nominations (8 for acting), 3 wins
13 SAG Award nominations, 4 wins

COMMENTARY:  Yes, Clooney has already won his Oscar(s).  But I am convinced he will win his trophy for a leading role as he is such a prominent leading man in Hollywood.

Female

Amy Adams

Amy Adams
4 Oscar nominations
4 Golden Globe nominations
5 SAG Award nominations

COMMENTARY: 4 nominations in 7 years.  That’s impressive.  It’s going to happen, soon.  Perhaps the first time she gets a big leading role?

Linney

Laura Linney
3 Oscar nominations
6 Golden Globe nominations, 2 wins
4 SAG Award nominations, 1 win
4 Primetime Emmy nominations, 3 wins

COMMENTARY:  Though as of late Linney has been more television oriented, I still don’t think the cinematic community is done paying its dues to this talented actress.

Julianne Moore in The Kids Are All Right

Julianne Moore
4 Oscar nominations
7 Golden Globe nominations, 1 win
10 SAG Award nominations, 1 win
1 Primetime Emmy win

COMMENTARY: If “Game Change” had been released in theaters and not on HBO, Moore would have her Oscar.  It’s been over a decade now since her last nomination, but I don’t think that means the impetus to give her award has disappeared.

10 for '10: Best Movies (The Challenge)

Emma Stone
1 Golden Globe nomination
1 SAG Award win

COMMENTARY: She’s a new Hollywood “It” girl.  Once she lands the big and flashy role, she will get an Oscar.  (Heck, they had her announce the nominations this year, something usually reserved for prior winners/nominees.)  She’s a beloved figure with all the charm and accessibility of Jennifer Lawrence with a little more polish and refinement.

Michelle Williams

Michelle Williams
3 Oscar nominations
3 Golden Globe nominations, 1 win
4 SAG Award nominations

COMMENTARY: Williams showed she had some serious range in “My Week with Marilyn.”  Not that her mopey characters weren’t good, but now we know she’s the real deal.

What do YOU think?  Who else is destined for Oscar glory in the next decade?





LISTFUL THINKING: Most Anticipated Movies of 2013

2 01 2013

I’ll still be stuck in 2012 at least until the Oscars are handed out and until then will be filling in with reviews of some of the movies I missed from the year.  But it’s time to move forward and look ahead to 2013, which could be a great year for cinema.  Several of my favorite filmmakers have projects due this year, which is what I will have to remind myself as I have to slog through a year that reportedly will give us 31 sequels and 17 reboots!

I had originally prepared a top 10 list for my most anticipated of 2013, but then I realized that since so many were TBD, there’s a chance we won’t see some of these movies until 2014.  So I added three movies at the beginning of the list that premiered on the 2012 fall festival circuit but will hit theaters for paying audiences in 2013.

Without further ado…

To The Wonder

#13
“To The Wonder” (April)
Written and directed by Terrence Malick
Starring Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, and Olga Kurylenko

A year ago, Terrence Malick was critical darling with his “The Tree of Life.”  Yet when “To the Wonder” arrived at Toronto and Venice, you’d have thought they were reviewing a Michael Bay movie.  How someone goes from hero to zero that meteorically is curious.  If nothing else, “To the Wonder” could be the most anticipated disaster of the year.

Frances Ha

#12
“Frances Ha” (May 17)
Directed by Noah Baumbach
Written by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig
Starring Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, and Adam Driver

Upon its many festival stops in 2012, it was called a mixture of French New Wave with early Woody Allen.  Combine that with the fact that it’s written and directed by Noah Baumbach, whose “The Squid and the Whale” knocked me off my feet, “Frances Ha” sounds like a movie custom-made for me.

The Place Beyond the Pines

#11
“The Place Beyond the Pines” (March 29)
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
Written by Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, and Darius Marder
Starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, and Eva Mendes

They called it a sprawling, multigenerational epic when it played Toronto.  And from the trailer for Derek Cianfrance’s follow-up to the harrowing “Blue Valentine,” it looks ambitious.  And honestly, I may be looking forward to this far more than several of the movies that made the ten.

Nebraska

#10
“Nebraska” (TBD)
Directed by Alexander Payne
Written by Bob Nelson
Starring Devin Ratray, Bruce Dern, and Bob Odenkirk

Alexander Payne’s “Election” alone makes anything from the director worth anticipating.  After a second writing Oscar back from a seven-year hiatus for “The Descendants,” he shortens his gap with a new movie within two years.  I’m a little skeptical, though, since the cast lacks some of the pop of Payne’s previous films, and he also didn’t write this one.

Inside Llewyn Davis

#9
“Inside Llewyn Davis” (TBD)
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, and Justin Timberlake

The Coens have gone from 1960s Jewish suburbia in “A Serious Man” to the 1880s Wild West in “True Grit.”  And now … back to the 1960s for the folk music scene of Greenwich Village?  They sure like to keep us on our feet.

The Wolf of Wall Street

#8
“The Wolf of Wall Street” (TBD)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Terence Winter
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, and Matthew McConaughey

Scorsese.  Enough said.  I suspect this will be the role that wins DiCaprio his Oscar, provided he doesn’t take Best Supporting Actor for “Django Unchained” this year.  With “The Great Gatsby” (see below) moving back to 2013, it assures us yet another fantastic one-two punch within the same year from DiCaprio.  “Gangs of New York” and “Catch Me If You Can.”  “The Departed” and “Blood Diamond.”  “Shutter Island” and “Inception.”  Boom, Leo comin’ at ya!

Catching Fire

#7
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (November 22)
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Written by Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hemsworth

I enjoyed “The Hunger Games” this year, though I do see room for improvement in sequels.  Hopefully the writer of “Slumdog Millionaire” and “127 Hours” as well as the writer of “Toy Story 3” can elevate it because I’m certainly not expecting much from the director of the middling “Water for Elephants.”  And I just kind of need something to fill the void left from “Harry Potter.”

Elysium

#6
“Elysium” (August 9)
Written and directed by Neill Blomkamp
Starring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, and Sharlto Copley

Anything shrouded in secrecy is enough to get me interested; that’s why “Prometheus” was at the top of this list for me in 2012 (that list was just mental).  And I think “District 9” could be merely scratching the surface of what Neill Blomkamp is capable of.  With Matt Damon and Jodie Foster headlining a sci-fi class warfare pic, this could be other-worldly levels of awesome.

Gravity

#5
“Gravity” (TBD)
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
Written by Alfonso Cuaron, Jonas Cuaron, and Rodrigo Garcia
Starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock

Speaking of other-worldly levels of awesome, let’s talk Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity.”  He hasn’t released a film for 7 years, but his last three films were the incredible stretch of “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” and “Children of Men.”  His “Gravity” has been described as “if ‘Avatar’ had been released in 1927 a week after ‘The Jazz Singer.'”  What.  Warner Bros. pushed it back from 2012 for what I imagine was fine-tuning, which just has me all the more on pins and needles.

Labor Day

#4
“Labor Day” (TBD)
Written and directed by Jason Reitman
Starring Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, and Tobey Maguire

Jason Reitman, on a subjective and personal level, is probably my favorite director.  He’s had a flawless 4-for-4 stretch of films in his career, and though “Young Adult” might have been a step down from “Up in the Air,” that’s because the latter was basically perfect.  I’m fascinated to see what he can do with Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin.

Twelve Years a Slave

#3
“Twelve Years a Slave” (TBD)
Directed by Steve McQueen
Written by Steve McQueen and John Ridley
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, and Michael Fassbender

Steve McQueen’s “Hunger” was pretty good, but his “Shame” was an absolutely ingenious triumph.  I can only imagine how he plans to top it in “Twelve Years a Slave,” the story of a New York man kidnapped and sold into slavery.  It’s got one heck of a cast, from Michael Fassbender to Brad Pitt to Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry’s first roles post-“Beasts of the Southern Wild.”  Is it too soon to cry Oscar?

Star Trek

#2
“Star Trek Into Darkness” (May 17)
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Written by Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof
Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Benedict Cumberbatch

Abrams did one heck of a job turning around the “Star Trek” franchise in 2009.  And from the superb trailer, it looks like he plans to boldly go into Christopher Nolan territory with a beautifully lensed and incredibly emotional follow-up.  I can’t wait.

Gatsby

#1
“The Great Gatsby” (May 10)
Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, and Tobey Maguire

I heard today that Jay-Z is going to be scoring Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of “The Great Gatsby.”  My first reaction was to rethink my placement of the movie as my most anticipated of 2013.  Then, I thought about it and realized that it might be a stroke of inspired brilliance that makes the movie even better.  Luhrmann is unparalleled in his ability to take old texts and make them feel alive, modern, and relevant.  Just look at how he took Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” and made it relevant for a post-MTV audience.  And think about how he seamlessly integrated pop songs into “Moulin Rouge,” set in 1900!  Luhrmann’s flair for the theatrical and opulent borders on gaudy on several occasions  but I think he’s the perfect match for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tale of the rich and the glamorous.  I have no doubt his use of 3D will serve the movie well too.  All in all, his “The Great Gatsby” will most definitely be for and by our times … and could wind up being the movie that defines 2013.