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.

 

Rent It (Soon): Sally Potter’s “Ginger and Rosa” is a Compelling 60s-set Drama

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Sally Potter’s “Ginger and Rosa” comes to DVD etc. on July 23, and it’s a compelling, smart film with great performances and a wonderful sense of place. I wrote about the film for buffalospree.com upon its Buffalo release a few months ago, and as I noted, it is yet another intriguing entry from the “Orlando” director. Note that I drew some comparisons with “Something in the Air,” a film I very much look forward to seeing again. I think my opinion of it is still evolving.

Festivals never quite finish. Yes, the schedules end, the producers and stars head home, and thoughts turn to next year (or the next festival). But the films keep popping up. Sometimes they appear after only a few days or weeks, sometimes months or years.

I’ve seen this happen firsthand after every installment of the Toronto International Film Festival that I’ve attended; just the other day, I noticed that the forgotten Josh Hartnett action film “Bunraku” (from TIFF 2010) was now streaming on Netflix. Go figure.

Oddly, several of the more intriguing films from TIFF 2012 are finally opening in North America. One of these, Derek Cianfrance’s sprawling crime epic “The Place Beyond the Pines,” is the best film I’ve seen this year; it opens in Buffalo shortly. Another, Sally Potter’s somber, moving drama “Ginger and Rosa,” arrives this Friday, and like “Pines,” it is a unique, well-acted film that’s certainly worth your time.

Elle Fanning and newcomer Alice Englert star as the titular teenagers. It is the London of the 1960s, and the world is gripped by Cold War anxiety. Ginger (Fanning) in particular becomes obsessed with the Cuban Missile Crisis, and begins to devote much of her time to anti-nuclear protests. This, perhaps, was the time she used to spend with Rosa. Once best friends, Ginger and Rosa have drift apart as Rosa becomes involved with Ginger’s dashing father, played by Alessandro Nivola.

Indeed, both friends have found paths to rebellion, but very different ones. The film ends not with the expected dramatic rupture, but instead with talk, and some tears. It’s an appropriate ending, for it was clearly a time period in which societal upheaval was just as likely to result in disappointment as it was triumph.

Potter’s career has been a fascinating one, and while Orlando remains her finest work, but “Ginger and Rosa” seems to be her most personal film yet. The English filmmaker clearly knows the locales and the time period well, and her focus on small stylistic detail is astounding.

The performances are uniformly great, as one might expect from a film featuring Nivola, Annette Bening, Timothy Spall, and Oliver Platt. But it is Elle Fanning who registers strongest. This is another great performance from the young star of “Super 8” and “Somewhere” — her best yet — and an indicator that she is one of the sharpest young talents in cinema.

In some ways, Ginger and Rosa reminded me of another TIFF 2012 selection, Olivier Assayas’s “Something in the Air.” But the “Carlos” and “Summer Hours” director’s study of young people in post May ’68 France was a curiously unemotional affair, one full of visual beauty and dreamy elegance, but a distinct lack of drama. “Ginger and Rosa” is the flip side. Potter’s film is all emotion, and while it is not quite as “pretty” as “Something,” makes for more satisfying viewing.

“Ginger and Rosa,” a smart, moving story of the complexities of friendship and young adulthood, opens on Friday; stay tuned for more TIFF 2012 updates from me in the weeks and months ahead.

 

Photo courtesy of A24

Weekend Preview: Forget “Earth” — There’s “Something in the Air”

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Tomorrow is one of the oddest movie-opening Fridays of the summer, truly. It’s also one of the most boring.

There are few summer releases that look less alluring to me than the Will Smith-Jaden Smith vehicle “After Earth.” In fact, perhaps the only element to pique my interest is the invisibility of director M. Night Shyamalan in the film’s ad campaign. Considering “The Happening” and “The Last Airbender,” that’s probably wise, but I’m not sure what impact it will have at the box office. I’d expect this one to open in the low-thirties, probably ending up making a bit more than the similarly-themed “Oblivion” when all is said and done.

The real question is whether it will hit No. 1 this weekend. I would expect “Fast 6” to maintain its hold, and it is even possible (if unlikely — this is a Will Smith movie, after all) that “Earth” will come in behind “Epic” and “Star Trek.”

Coming in behind all those should be the magicians-robbing-banks thriller “Now You See Me.” The trailers are fun, but if this was directed by anyone other than Louis Leterrier (“Clash of the Titans”), I’d be a heckuva lot more excited. Look at that cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and one of my favorite actresses, the incandescent Mélanie Laurent. Good reviews could make this a modest success, and it is worth noting that Leterrier directed two of the enjoyable “Transporter” films.

In the world of indies: I saw “Something in the Air” at TIFF 2012, and my initial response, for Buffalo Spree, was muted, at best: “One notable miss was Olivier Assayas’s autobiographical film. This look at students in Paris continuing the struggles of post-May ’68 life is handsomely made but pretty vacant.” But I seemed to sense the tide could turn: “Of course, time often changes my opinions. Seeing Sarah Polley’s ‘Take This Waltz’ at TIFF 2011, I was horribly disappointed. Watching it again months later, outside the pomp and circumstance of the festival setting, I adored it. There’s hope for you yet, ‘Something.’”

This was indeed the case. The more I’ve pondered “Something in the Air,” the stronger it has seemed. Film fest fatigue played a role, I think, in my response; it was the last film, at 9 or 10 p.m., after a long day of walking and watching. And it directly followed the overwhelming emotional experience that is “Amour,” so it certainly seemed rather anonymous, in terms of character and emotion, by comparison. My earlier criticisms are valid, I think. It is hard to find a compelling character here — blah is the most intriguing, but she’s not really the star — yet the mood, the vibe, and the surroundings are so right that it works more often than not. I look forward to seeing it again.

It’s ironic that “Kon-Tiki” is opening today, since yesterday brought major news for its directors, Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg: The duo will helm the fifth installment of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, once more starring starring Johnny Depp. An Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Feature, the well-reviewed “Kon-Tiki” looks like a visual stunner, and, perhaps, a big-screen must-see.

Michael Shannon makes any film more interesting, and it will be especially fun to see him tackle the meaty villain role in “Man of Steel.” Hitman drama “The Iceman” has a heckuva cast — Winona Ryder, Chris Evans, Ray Liotta, James Franco (of course), David Schwimmer (?), Stephen Dorff — but carries the whiff of we’ve-seen-it-all-before. Still, it’s a nice alternative to “The Hangover,” and I’ll catch up with it at some point.

Local filmmaker alert: Cheers to Peter McGennis, the native son director of “Queen City,” which opens tomorrow at the North Park. Taking place and shot in Buffalo, it stars Vivica A. Fox and features a talented lineup including Susan Tedeschi, Allen Toussaint, Maria Muldaur, and Sharon Jones. I did not get a chance to attend its fall screening or see McGennis’s “Buffalo Bushido,” but it’s always nice to help promote an ambitious local filmmaker.

Incidentally, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” is moving to the Movieland 8, and “Renoir” and “Mud” are still hanging around, too. Also note that “The Place Beyond the Pines” is showing at both the Movieland and McKinley Mall.

Last but not least, Joss Whedon fans in Western New York should note that “Serenity” is showing at the Screening Room tonight, part of a double-bill with sci-fi oldie “Rocketship X-M.”

Coming soon from me are some thoughts on this strange summer, which features a long lineup of dull blockbusters but some truly stunning smaller films. One of these, “Frances Ha,” opens next Friday. You’re going to love it.