It’s Never Too Early: Pondering 2013’s Best Films … So Far

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I think 2013 has been a surprisingly strong year for movies. Okay, maybe not BIG movies, but there have been many smaller films that, to me, will rank high when the year comes to a close. I decided to make June 30 the cut-off here, so any film that has not officially opened before then (that I’ve already seen) is not here—hence, no “Blue Jasmine.” And of course, there are plenty of movies I still need to see that could make a dent: “Leviathan,” “Beyond the Hills,” “Simon Killer,” “The Act of Killing.” You’ll note that there is plenty of 2012 product here, but I am considering any film actually released in 2013 in North America is fair game. This list may change dramatically tomorrow, but today, in random order, here it is:

  • “Stories We Tell”
  • “Frances Ha”
  • “The Place Beyond the Pines”
  • “Upstream Color”
  • “Before Midnight”
  • “The Bling Ring”
  • “Lore”
  • “Mud”
  • “No”
  • “This is the End”

Some others that at the very least are in the conversation, for me: “The Gatekeepers,” “Side Effects,” “Room 237,” “Like Someone in Love,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Fill the Void,” “Spring Breakers,” “To the Wonder,” “Something in the Air” (yes, I think I’ve completely changed my mind on this one), “Ginger and Rosa.”

What do others think? Here are several lists of 2013’s halfway-point bests:

“Upstream Color” still from the film’s official site.

 

A Mid-Summer Report Card: Pondering Superman, Monsters, and “The End”

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We’re at about the midpoint of summer, movie-wise, and it’s been a wild one, with a few hits, several high-profile bombs (“After Earth,” “White House Down,” “The Lone Ranger”), and some indie successes. I have not seen everything – still need to get to “Star Trek: Into Darkness” and “World War Z” – but here are some very brief thoughts on what I HAVE seen. (Note that even though I said “report card,” I’m sticking with the 4-star system.)

“Iron Man 3:”: Not a BAD film , exactly, but one that to my mind did nothing to move along the franchise. Robert Downey Jr.’s shtick has grown increasingly old, and I found the second installment far superior. That being said, Ben Kingsley gives his funniest performance on years. 2 1/2 stars

“Man of Steel”: There are some great moments here, and it will turn out to be, I think, a fine first chapter in a new Superman series. But it’s an odd film, and in some ways, a brutish, unrelentingly grim one. Still, I love Michael Shannon having a role in a blockbuster, and Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, and Russell Crowe each turn in solid performances. What’s up with the insane product placement? By the way, I’m fine with Supe the killer. I come down on the side of the semi-satisfied … barely. Because 2 3/4 is not allowed, I’m going 2 1/2 stars

“Monsters University”: I haven’t seen “Brave,” so I’ve yet to see EVERY Pixar film, but this felt like the weakest by far. It’s entertaining, as they all are, but wayyy too long. 2 1/2 stars seems low, but I gave the superior “Despicable Me 2” 3 stars, so …

“This is the End”: Funniest comedy I’ve seen in some time, and can’t wait to see it again. Backstreet’s back. Yes, I would have liked Michael Cera and Emma Watson to have stuck around a bit longer, but still. 3 1/2 stars

“Before Midnight”: Another insightful, smart, passionate burst from Linklater-Hawke-Delpy. The opening, with the son boarding the plane alone, still gets me. 4 stars

“Frances Ha”: I’ve made my feelings on this clear – still the best thing I’ve seen this summer. 4 stars

“Copperhead”: I’ll be writing a longer review of this one soon; it is compelling, well-acted, and a tad dry, but overall it works – if you care about the Civil War going in. 3 stars

“The East”: Impassioned, brisk, and utterly fake. 2 stars

“The Great Gatsby”: This came out during the summer? Feels like I saw it two years ago. 2 1/2 (being generous)

“Mud”: A twisty coming- of-age epic brimming with great moments and performances. 3 1/2 stars

“Despicable Me 2”: What can I say? It entertained me more than Superman and Iron Man. 3 stars

 

Rentals …

“Hyde Park on Hudson”: This one literally evaporates upon viewing. Even Bill Murray can’t save this dull, strange concoction. It’s a misfire on every level. 1 1/2 stars

“Warm Bodies”: Not particularly funny or clever, despite a game cast. 2 stars

“Mama”: Scary and silly on equal measure, “Mama” has just enough to qualify as slightly above-average horror. 2 1/2 stars

“Quartet”: I love Dustin Hoffman, and it is difficult to find a weak link in the cast, but his directorial debut makes “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” look like a Gregg Araki flick. 2 stars

 

More to come soon, including “Fill the Void,” “The Conjuring,” and, hopefully, “Stories to Tell.”

 

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Jeff Nichols’ “Mud”: One of 2013’s Finest Films

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A very quick Sunday update, as the film world awaits the announcement of this year’s Cannes awards …

I finally saw Jeff Nichols’ “Mud” last night, and was riveted. It is the finest work yet from the director of the great “Shotgun Stories” and “Take Shelter,” a superior achievement that will surely rank among the year’s best.

It’s a dense story with a novel-like feel — virtually every character could warrant his or her own lengthy subplot, especially Joe Don Baker’s craggy King — but what Nichols does most effectively is give his actors time to truly build each scene into a slow-burning marvel. It’s a long movie, over two hours, but I can’t think of a wasted scene.

I could see Matthew McConaughey enter Oscar talk, although it is more likely to occur with “Dallas Buyer’s Club.” Either way, he deserves praise. What an amazing stretch of films for him. Just as strong is young Tye Sheridan, the sweet, not-as-tough-as-he-thinks-he-is Ellis. This kid is a star in the making, anchoring every scene in which he appears.

What a wonderful film “Mud” is — one to be savored. Expect to hear much more on this from me. For those in Buffalo, hurry up, and see it while it’s still playing at the Eastern Hills Mall.

Have a lovely Sunday — enjoy “Arrested Development”! Her?

 

Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions

Weekend Preview: “Star Trek” Sold Out? Dive Into “Mud” With McConaugheyyyyyyy

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The big new release of the week is obviously “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” but one other major story, I think, is the continued success of a movie that has been showing in Buffalo now for several weeks, and has become something of an indie hit: “Mud.”

In fact, “Mud” — which I have not had a chance to see yet — is now showing at the Dipson Amherst and the Regal Quaker Crossing (it opened there last week) after an initial run at the Dipson Eastern Hills (where it is still showing). Directed by Jeff Nichols, who blew me away at TIFF 2011 with “Take Shelter,” “Mud” has drawn raves ever since showing at Cannes last year. I was surprised the fugitive drama did not make its way to TIFF 2012, and wondered if perhaps its exclusion would lead to poor buzz. Happily, that was not the case.

The film, which stars the on-fire Matthew McConaughey (I call him McConaugheyyyyyy), and co-stars the suddenly fiery Reese Witherspoon, has made almost $10 million, and for a small release, that’s a jackpot. It demonstrates once again that there can be room for smaller films to squeak into the top 10, even during the blockbuster-crazed early summer.

Congrats to Jeff Nichols, who just sold a script to Warner Bros. Oh, my friend Michael Shannon (Zod!) is in “Mud,” and will be in the next Nichols project.

A quick box office preview: “Star Trek” will be huge, of course; if it does not hit $100 million for the weekend, it should be close. It will be interesting to see how “Gatsby” fares. I think it will hold up strong as a nice bit of counter-programming.

Poster courtesy of Roadside Attractions