My top 10 of 2013: The Place Beyond the Pines (#10)

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More from my Film Stage top 10 list. 

Here is an epic American crime drama, one that takes a narrow-eyed look at class, and how the circumstances of our birth dictate the rest of our lives. It’s boldly told, ambitiously plotted, and often verges on collapse. But Derek Cianfrance and his cast keep it together. Ryan Gosling has never been better as a motorcycle daredevil turned bank robber, Bradley Cooper is nicely flawed as the beat cop who finds himself on Gosling’s tale, and Eva Mendes gives her best performance as the woman who gave birth to Gosling’s child, but knows he’s on the road to nowhere. Few films this year matched this one’s verve and ambition

Weekend Preview: Squeaky Wheel’s Fab Outdoor Animation Fest Turns 10

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Yes, one of the summer’s last blockbusters opens this weekend, as well as one of the year’s most acclaimed films, but I want to start with a Buffalo treasure: Squeaky Wheel.

This Saturday, July 27, is Squeaky Wheel’s 10th annual Outdoor Animation Festival in Days Park, and it is a perennial summer treat. The free event is a perfect opportunity to watch some great films under the stars; attendees can bring lawn chairs or blankets, and should arrive around 8:30 p.m. to grab a good seat, and have some fun with the Stop Motion Animation Station.

Among others, the festival will showcase two recent animations by local youth artist, Maria Ziaja; you can watch one of her videos here.

And afterwards, an after-party will be held at Allen Street Hardware featuring “exclusive screening that features animations too lewd, too wild and too crazy for the main screen!”

As I put it in a “Hot 5” entry for Buffalo Spree last year, “it is an outdoor event that is visually thrilling and thematically varied … and once again it highlights the work of internationally renowned experimental and underground filmmakers.” Of course, I explained, the animation fest is the tip of the Squeaky iceberg: There are workshops, kids camps, regular screenings, the acclaimed Buffalo Youth Media Institute, and much more. I had the honor of serving as Squeaky board member for several years, and I can say with confidence that every SW event is a blast — especially this one.

Note also that Squeaky will hold an encore presentation of the fest at Canalside on August 21.

After these cool films, this week’s major blockbuster offering, “The Wolverine,” seems a bit ho-hum … But perhaps I’m still wounded from the horrible “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” Reviews have been mixed for this one, but I think X-Men fans are hopeful. Hugh Jackman is hard not to like, and his Wolverine is one of the most indelible onscreen comic book characters of recent years. Plus, setting the film in Japan seems very wise.

But who knows? It is difficult to predict how much the film will snag this weekend, but the buzz seems stronger for this one than, say, “Pacific Rim.” (I haven’t seen “PR” yet, but I’d bet money that it’s a more ambitious, interesting film than “Wolverine.” But buzz is buzz.) Let’s say $60 mill, which I’d call a great success.

Quite frankly, I’m more excited for the weekend’s other two main releases: “Fruitvale Station” and “The To-Do List.”

“Fruitvale Station” was one of the hits of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and lead Michael B. Jordan is being pegged as a breakout star. It’s a film that has drawn praise — and tears — from many, many major critics, and it is expected to be part of the Oscar conversation. I can’t wait to see it, and interestingly, it is opening wide in Buffalo, at the Dipson Amherst Theater, and also at every local Regal (Elmwood, Transit, Walden, Quaker Crossing, and Niagara Falls).

The trailer for “The To-Do List” looks devilishly hilarious, and with the great AubreyPlaza in the lead (“Safety Not Guaranteed,” “Parks and Recreation”), this could be a solid word-of-mouth earner.

“The Godfather” is still showing at The Screening Room — 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday — while Tuesday (July 30) sees 1948’s “Pitfall” and Thursday (August 1) sees the WNY premiere of the acclaimed Sundance 2013 selection “This is Martin Bonner.”

This week’s Bacchus  pick is a slightly odd: the Bradley Cooper-starrer “Limitless.” Meanwhile, the UB North Campus features two wildly different films: “X-Men: First Class” on Friday (July 26), and, thrillingly, “The Place Beyond the Pines” on Tuesday (July 30). The latter is one of my favorite films of 2013. (Big Bradley Cooper week in the Buffalo outdoor film world.) UB South Campus is also showing “Pines,” on Wednesday (July 31). The film is coming to DVD and Blu-ray on August 6, but these are cool opportunities to see it on the big screen.

Coming soon: Woody Allen’s fantastic “Blue Jasmine” should be opening here soon, while August 2 sees two films with the number “2” in the title — the similarities end there: “2 Guns” and “The Smurfs 2.”

Ugh. But do not despair, as the summer still has some offerings that COULD prove wonderful: “Elysium,” “The World’s End,” “The Spectacular Now,” “The Grandmaster,” and “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.”

Poster art courtesy of Squeaky Wheel

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.