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.

 

Wednesday Round-Up: Friedkin’s Failed “Sorcerer,” Cinephilia’s Survival, and Tarkovsky’s Polaroids

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“I was listening to an album by Miles Davis called Sorcerer, with driving rhythms and jagged horn solos that characterized Miles’s band in the late 1960s. We painted the word Sorcier (French for ‘Sorcerer’) on the other truck, and I later decided to call the film ‘Sorcerer,’ an intentional but ill-advised reference to The Exorcist. The original title I’d proposed was ‘Ballbreaker.’”

So writes director William Friedkin in his recently released career-spanning memoir “The Friedkin Connection.” The book is a must-read for fans of 70s cinema, and an ideal companion to a book I’d imagine Friedkin hates, Peter Biskind’s “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.” (I briefly discussed the book in a recent buffalospree.com post.)

Whenever I read a book like this, I’m intrigued not by the tales of success — quite frankly, I’ve read enough about the making of “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist” — but of failure. (That’s why I am dying to find a bio of Michael Cimino.)

Friedkin has had his share, and he goes into great detail about them here. Yes, there is “Cruising,” but he is especially candid about his version of Clouzot’s “Wages of Fear,” titled “Sorcerer.” I rented the Roy Scheider-starring flop a few years ago, and found it taut, well-made, and compelling. (Incidentally, Friedkin still maintains that the film needed a star, and rues the day he spurned Steve McQueen: “I realized a close up of Steve McQueen was worth the greatest landscape you could find.”)

As Friedkin recently explained to Vulture, does not consider “Sorcerer” to be a remake, and in some ways, perhaps Friedkin faced the same issue David Fincher faced with “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” As Fincher made clear, and any astute viewer could discern, the first entry in the Lisbeth Salander saga was most certainly not a remake of the popular Swedish version. It was simply another film based on Stieg Larsson’s book.

Friedkin:

“It’s not a remake of ‘The Wages of Fear’! Somebody’s probably doing ‘Hamlet’ somewhere right now; that’s not a remake of ‘Hamlet.’ ‘Sorcerer’ is a new version of a classic story, a novel by a French author named Georges Arnaud. Certainly my film was inspired by Clouzot’s film, which I consider a masterpiece. But then-contemporary audiences in the English-speaking world did not know ‘Wages of Fear’ that well. I felt that the underlying theme, the subject matter, and the characters were important enough to do a new version. Now, did some critics have their knives out? I think that would be to undervalue the nature of film criticism. I would hope not, but you’re posing the question, so it has to be possible. Occasionally, what happens when a filmmaker or artist is extremely successful in a certain period, there do seem to be critics who come out with reevaluations for one reason or another. I do know that I very much thought I was the center of the universe at the time. And a lot of people probably were waiting for me to crash.”

Copyright issues have surrounded “Sorcerer” for years, but it appears the director may finally have his say, with a remastered re-release on its way. There has never been a Friedkin Criterion release, but if ever one of his films cried out for such treatment, it is “Sorcerer.” In fact, there is even a “Sorcerer” blog, which is where the above image came from.

The rest of my Wednesday round-up:

  • Lots of good stuff on Vulture, including the many faces of “Mad Men”’s Ted Chaough (I think he and Harry Hamlin were this season’s unsung heroes), the late Richard Matheson’s classic “Twlight Zone” ep “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” in full, and 10 tidbits that did not make it into “The Bling Ring.”
  • Richard Brody talks about the long-awaited Criterion release of “Shoah,” and asks an important question: Will cinephilia survive without DVDs?
  • Criticwire lists its best of 2013 so far.
  • The Playlist has its usual fine mix of features and news; two highlights are a look at five movies that triumphed over bad buzz and five that did not, and a Russian teaser for Ridley Scott’s “The Counselor.”
  • Two from Empire: First, will Rick Moranis be returning to the big screen in “Ghostbusters 3”? Maybe. And second, did you spot all these “Man of Steel” Easter eggs? Doubtful.
  • And lastly, even Andrei Tarkovsky’s Polaroids were stunning. I wonder what he would have made of digital.

Weekend Preview: “Much Ado” About Brad, “Bling,” Brit, and “Monsters”

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Last weekend was pretty special, with “Before Midnight,” “This is the End,” and “Man of Steel” all opening, but guess what? This Friday is just as solid.

The biggies, of course, are “Monsters University” and “World War Z,” and we can expect these to land 1-and-2 (unless “Man of Steel” trumps Brad Pitt — more on that below) at the box office. How high will each go? That’s the question. It has been a shockingly quiet summer so far for straight family fare, so Pixar’s “Monsters, Inc.” sequel is dropping at the right time. It does seem that there has been less and less buzz with each new Pixar release since “Toy Story 3” in 2010 — “Cars 2” and “Brave” both did well enough, to be sure, but neither captured the zeitgeist as strongly as some other Pixar releases. I expect “Monsters” to make more dough than either “Cars 2” or “Brave,” and to play well into July.

Ahh yes, “World War Z,” that embattled, bloated, ending-challenged franchise-to-be. I’m not sure all that talk has hurt the film much, but then again, I never felt it necessarily had franchise written all over it. Reviews have been mixed so far, but the trailer look good, Brad Pitt is promoting the hell out of it, and it is rather unique in the summer lineup. I have not read Max Brooks’s book, but the changes Marc Forster and company made seem to make it a less interesting product. But there is nothing else quite like it this season, and you have to respect its ambition. I could see “Monsters” doing anywhere from $70 to $90 million, with “Z” ringing up $40 to $50 mill.

Where will “Man of Steel” fit into this equation? Zack Snyder’s reimagining of Superman opened so large — wayyy more than I predicted — that it could certainly beat “World War Z” to the number two spot. This second weekend will really determine if the film has “Dark Knight” legs, or “Amazing Spider-Man” legs. I expect the former.

Indie alert: This weekend sees the Buffalo release of three fascinating, unique films. I’ve seen two of them, and loved one.

First is the long-awaited release of a film I’ve prattled on about too often (for obvious reasons), Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” I am anxious to see if the film will play as well to me now as it did on a Sunday morning at TIFF; I believe it will. It is exciting to see the smart, funny film make it to Buffalo. It’s showing at the Dipson Eastern Hills.

Brit Marling is near the top on my list of favorite young actresses, but her latest, “The East,” was a stunning disappointment, surprisingly. Its plot, about a former FBI agent going undercover with an eco-anarchist group, held great promise, but the execution is all wrong. It feels childish, horribly unsubtle, and worst of all, just plain phony. It will play, to some, and there are certainly successful elements, not the least of which is Marling’s performance. She, and director Zal Batmanglij, who last collaborated on one of my favorite films of 2012, “The Sound of My Voice” — will be back.

Lastly comes Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring,” a glossy, stylized take on the real-life robbers who shocked Beverly Hills. As I mentioned yesterday, I’m a Coppola fan, and her aesthetic seems an ideal fit with this material. Even if the film as a whole seems iffy, it stars the increasingly wonderful Emma Watson and a WTF-supporting cast: Gavin Rossdale, Paris Hilton as herself.

A couple other quick screening notes: The Screening Room is showing Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief” at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday; it is followed at 9:20 on Saturday with the noir classic “D.O.A.”

And in the outdoor series world, Bacchus screens the iconic “Big Lebowski” on Wednesday (June 26); the UB North Campus shows “Oz the Great and Powerful” on Friday and “Monsters, Inc.” on Tuesday (June 25), both at 9:15; and the UB South Campus offers “Despicable Me” at 9:15 on Wednesday (June 26.)

All in all, a unique weekend. But sadly, there are some grim weeks of blockbuster releases ahead …

 

Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions

Wednesday Round-Up: Defending “Marie Antoinette,” Debating “Man of Steel,” and Keeping Up With Patrick Bateman

Marie Antoinette

The middle of the week means it is time for my usual round-up of some of the articles I’ve been digging this week, including a handy list of “movies to see” at the mid-point of 2013. I’ve seen my share, but I have plenty of catching up to do …

First: I’m not sure what it is about Sofia Coppola’s films that seems to garner such strong reactions. I’ve met few folks who are in the middle about her work — it’s a love/hate thing, it seems. Her latest, “The Bling Ring,” starring Emma Watson, appears to open Friday in Buffalo (there is some confusion, but it is listed on Fandango), and it seems to be as glossy and surface-oriented as the rest of her films. But I have actually liked that about them. “Marie Antoinette” seems to be the most love-it-or-hate-it of the Coppola filmography, and on the occasion of “Bling”‘s release, New York Magazine’s Vulture website is mounting a spirited defense.

As author Amanda Dobbins puts it:

To be fair, not everyone hated Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette.” New York’s David Edelstein called it “one of the most immediate, personal costume dramas ever made”; 55 percent of the critics on Rotten Tomatoes sided with him, to varying degrees. But seven years later, “Marie Antoinette,” loosely based on the best-selling Antonia Fraser biography, is probably Coppola’s least-loved film. It’s the one that got booed at Cannes (though of course it did, Cannes is in France); it is the one that didn’t live up to “Lost in Translation.” And if you are anti-Sofia, then it is probably the most obvious example of her worst tendencies: style over substance, minimal plot, overprivileged young women who refuse to speak in full sentences or really at all.

But I think I’m with Ms. Dobbins here: “I happen to love ‘Marie Antoinette’; it’s probably my second favorite of Coppola’s films, right behind ‘Lost in Translation.’ And while I understand some of the criticisms (specifically the part about no one using words, ever), most of its so-called weaknesses — even that famous pair of Chuck Taylors — are the reasons I enjoy it. For all its historical trappings, ‘Marie Antoinette’ is just a painfully hip period film about how annoying and fun and terrifying it is to be a teenage girl. It is a high-school movie transplanted to Versailles.”

And the rest:

  • Speaking of Sofia Coppola, Movie City News has posted her debut short from 1998, “Lick the Star.”
  • Bret Easton Ellis himself said “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” “star” Scott Disick would be an ideal Patrick Bateman in an “American Psycho” remake, but it took Kanye West to make it so.
  • I finally saw “Man of Steel” last night, and I’ll share some thoughts soon. (Let’s say I enjoyed it, with reservations.) The Playlist offers a solid breakdown of the best and worst of Zack Snyder’s Superman epic, and there are lots of good points here.
  • Roger Ebert’s birthday was yesterday, and his website offered up a nice list of films for which his review “made the difference,” including “Hoop Dreams” and “Dark Skies.”
  • Pitchfork’s new movie website, The Dissolve, has not launched yet, but its Tumblr site has, and the great Scott Tobias has posted the aforementioned “movies to see” so far in 2013 list, along with DVD and Blu-ray release dates for some.
  • Now the Rob Ford scandal is impacting the Toronto International Film Festival.
  • Will Brad Pitt’s “World War Z” flop? This writer seems to think so, and offers some convincing reasons why.
  • Yet another trailer for Nicholas Winding Refn’s “Only God Forgives,” starring Ryan Gosling.
  • Interestingly, after a mixed — well, mostly negative — response at Cannes, the filmmanaged to beat “Stories We Tell” and “The Act of Killing” for top honors at the Sydney Film Festival.
  • Lastly, Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing” is finally set to open in Buffalo this weekend. Here is a nice Guardian interview about that film, “The Avengers,” his career, and more.

 

Photo Credit: Sofia Coppola
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