Top 10 of 2013

Top 10 2014Those who read a lot of movie reviewers know that it is part of the job to rank the best movies of the year once that year is over. Not being one of those critics who gets to see all the big movies well in advance of their release date, I have to make do with getting out to see them as soon as I can, which leads to delays in publishing my top 10.

As with most things, any top 10 for any critic is a moment in time captured. This is how I feel these movies belong to be ranked at this moment, right now. I can guarantee you that I’ll look back on this next year and wonder how in the hell I ranked one movie ahead of another, or how I missed this movie or that one.

Here you’ll see plenty of movies that are already on a lot of year end lists, but there’s one you won’t see that is – Her. That’s not because I didn’t love the movie – in fact, I think that it would be near the top if not the top movie of 2013. However, while it did get released in New York and L.A. in 2013 for Academy consideration, most people in the country didn’t get a chance to see it until January of this year. That is why I decided to put the film in as part of my 2014 films. Normally I go by the release date of the movie to qualify it as a top ten film, but in all honesty these days we’re getting so many quality foreign films that were released in their own countries a year, two or even three years prior to their American release that I am going with a general “when did it get its widest release” in order to determine what year I rank the film with. You can bitch and moan if you want to but it’s my playground and my rules and I reserve the right to change them tomorrow.

I think that the quality for movies overall in 2013 was pretty high compared to recent years. Many of the honorable mentions would have made the top 10 lists in years past. This one was a bit harder to put together; there were several I had a hard time relegating to the purgatory of Honorable Mention but at the end of the day, this is my list and I’m sticking to it.

So this is the list as I see it. Feel free to leave your comments and opinions here on the site or elsewhere. I’m always happy to defend my choices. However, if you haven’t seen some of them, do seek them out; I’ll do my best to provide information as to how to go watch them right now, whether it be in your local multiplex, through an online streaming service, on your cable or satellite subscription service or at your local DVD store.


There are a number of movies that didn’t quite make the cut of the top ten. I thought I’d add them here so you can get an idea of which ones came close, were considered and ultimately not chosen. Again, I will stress that all of these are quality films worth seeking out if you’re looking for entertainment, enlightenment or insight. I didn’t include links here but if you want to read my reviews of any of these, simply type in the title into the search field and have at it. So,  in no particular order;

Dallas Buyers Club, Aftermath, Saving Mr. Banks, Mud, Starbuck, A.C.O.D., Unfinished Song, Nebraska, The Book Thief, John Dies at the End, The World’s End, Stories We Tell, The Attack, Good Ol’ Freda, Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, Sightseers, Captain Phillips, Pieta, Philomena, The History of Future Folk, About Time, I Declare War, Year of the Living Dead, Quartet

This Is Where We Live


(Bluff City) Tobias Segal, Marc Menchaca, Barry Corbin, Frankie Shaw, C.K. McFarland, Ron Hayden, Katherine Willis, Marco Perella, Brent Smiga, Brian Orr, Christine Bruno, Carolyn Gilroy. Directed by Josh Barrett and Marc Menchaca

Released April 7, 2013 A Texas hill country family has a tough go of it, with the adult son having a severe form of cerebral palsy and the father in the beginning stages of dementia. The mother is also battling high blood pressure and the sister is bitter at the hand life has dealt her. Into this volatile mix comes a rough and tumble handyman who at first builds a wheelchair ramp for the front porch but eventually becomes the son’s caretaker and friend. However his shortcomings may tear the family apart.

WHY IT IS HERE: Beautifully photographed and written with sympathy and sensitivity, this is a movie for people who love movies about people and by people, I mean real people, the sort you might run into at the grocery store or sit next to in the bar. It could have easily been a manipulative Lifetime movie but instead chooses honesty over treacle. An amazing debut by the directing team.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Tobias Segal as August expresses his frustration at trying to communicate with a body that doesn’t co-operate with him – ever.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: Not available.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Is trying to secure distributorship for some sort of theatrical release. Until then, look for it on the Festival circuit.

Short Term 12


(Cinedigm) Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Rami Malek, Keith Stanfield, Frantz Turner, Stephanie Beatriz, Melora Walters. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton

Released August 23, 2013 In an era of austerity where social service funding is under fire from the fiscal conservatives, this is a look at just what that wasteful spending is actually spent on. A young woman is the caretaker of at-risk youths in a care facility in Los Angeles in an eventful few days in the facility. A girl is admitted, one who reminds the caretaker strikingly of herself. A long-time resident prepares to get released to live on his own. And the caretaker discovers that she is pregnant, which triggers her own long-held emotional issues.

WHY IT IS HERE: As authentic a movie as was released in 2013. A warts-and-all portrayal of troubled kids and of the young people who care for them. Larson’s performance would certainly have been in the mix for the Best Actress Oscar had this been released by a major studio; suffice to say she has what it takes to get the gold somewhere down the line. Surrounded by a great young cast, Larson shines and elevates this film to the next level.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Larson “rescues” Dever from the home of her abusive father and in doing so the inner pain of both women comes to the surface.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $1 million domestic (as of 1/14/14), $1 million total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Amazon. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix. Stream from Amazon.

The Wolf of Wall Street


(Paramount) Leonardo di Caprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Kenneth Choi, PJ Byrne, Jon Bernthal, Joanna Lumley. Directed by Martin Scorsese

Released December 25, 2013 It seems only fitting that Scorsese would in this day and age make a film about amoral Wall Street capitalists – after all, they are the new mob of the 21st century. Still, there is a fascination to the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort from ambitious penny stock trader to criminal on an epic scale. All the drugs, all the language, the greed and the women – it’s a morality tale like none other.

WHY IT IS HERE: Di Caprio delivers one of the defining performances of his career to date and Hill proves he’s more than a one-shot wonder with an Oscar-nominated performance. While some have complained about the indulgences and the f-bombs, nonetheless there’s authenticity about what you see onscreen. If absolute power corrupts absolutely, then money corrupts inevitably. One of the critical hits of the year and judging on the box office returns this may well being one of Scorsese’s biggest hits ever.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Delayed-reaction Quaaludes. That’s all you need to know.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $82.8 million domestic (as of 1/17/14), $120.9M total.


STATUS: Still out in wide release.

The Hunt


(Magnolia) Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkoop, Lasse Fogelstrom, Susse Wold, Anne Louise Hassing, Lars Ranthe, Alexandra Rapaport, Ole Dupont, Rikke Bergmann, Allan Wilbor Christensen. Directed by Thomas Vinterberg

Released July 12, 2013 We were one of the first in the country to see this here in Orlando at the Florida Film Festival. Recently this was announced to be one of the final nominees for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Given it’s wrenching story about a substitute teacher who is just trying to get his life together after a bitter divorce accused of molesting a little girl, it’s hardly unsurprising but there is more to this than simply a terrific story.

WHY IT IS HERE: The storyline, as well-told as it is, is brought to life by an Oscar-worthy performance by Mikkelsen. In a year in which we’ve been treated to a wealth of fine performances, this is as good as any as you’ll witness, Only the fact that this is a mid-major distributor and a foreign film kept Mikkelsen from being in the Oscar mix. This is the kind of movie that leaves you feeling emotionally drained after seeing it.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The Christmas eve church confrontation.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $613,308 domestic (as of 1/21/14), $16.76M total..

BUDGET: $3.45M.

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Amazon. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix/Blockbuster. Stream from Amazon/Blockbuster/Netflix/iTunes.

Fruitvale Station


(Weinstein) Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray, Ariana Neal, Ahna O’Reilly, Keenan Coogler, Trestin George, Joey Oglesby, Michael James, Marjorie Shears, Destiny Ekwueme. Directed by Ryan Coogler

Released July 12, 2013 Based on true events that happened on the last day of 2008 (and on the first day of 2009), the shooting of Oscar Grant III at an East Bay BART station galvanized the Bay Area and the nation as to the training of transit police and their use of firearms. Taking place on the last day of his life, the film shows the story of a man who’s made some terrible mistakes trying to get his life together only to lose it in a senseless confrontation

WHY IT IS HERE: Some talk about Oscar snubs to Redford and Hanks but this entire movie has gotten snubbed this entire awards season and it just isn’t right. Part of he problem was that the movie was released back in July but frankly the studio hasn’t really supported it as much as it deserves either. The movie certainly should have received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Jordan), Best Supporting Actress (Spencer) and Best Original Screenplay. Hopefully the justice will be in big boosts to the careers of Coogler and Jordan.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: When a mother is informed that her son is dead.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $16.1 million domestic (as of 1/21/14), $16.7 million total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Amazon. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix. Stream from Amazon/ iTunes.

20 Feet from Stardom


(Radius) Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fisher, Judith Hill, Tata Vega, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger, Bette Midler, Chris Botti, Lynn Mabry, Claudia Lennear, Sheryl Crow, Patti Austin. Directed by Morgan Neville

Released June 14, 2013 Most of us know the stars out front belting out the hits but few of us are all that aware of the back-up singers who often sing the parts of the song we sing along to. Some of them are the most talented and powerful voices in the business bar none – including the stars, who would be the first to tell you so. These are the anti-American Idols – women content to remain in the background, who sing for the love of singing rather than in pursuit of fame.

WHY IT IS HERE: This Oscar-nominated documentary shines a light on those who have shunned the spotlight, some for nearly 50 years and still going strong. This was the opening night film for the 2013 Florida Film Festival and an auspicious kick-off to that event it was, with Merry Clayton a special guest gracing opening night filmgoers with a song.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: A deconstruction of the Rolling Stones’ classic “Gimme Shelter” with the various tracks stripped away until only Clayton’s powerful voice remains.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $4.8M domestic (as of 1/22/14), $5.2M worldwide.

BUDGET: Not available

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Amazon. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix. Stream from Amazon/ iTunes.



(Warner Brothers) Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris (voice), Phaldut Sharma (voice), Orto Ignatiussen (voice), Amy Warren (voice), Basher Savage (voice). Directed by Alfonso Cuaron

Released October 3, 2013 Perhaps the worst possible fear of an astronaut is a disaster in space, crippling their spacecraft and robbing them of a ride home. For all our well-trained, cool-as-a-cucumber-under-pressure NASA heroes, there’s no doubt that each one of them are human inside and in a situation like that would be absolutely terrified. This comes as close as we can to making that situation real for a general audience.

WHY IT IS HERE: Stunning special effects that duplicate weightlessness so perfectly, and a bravura Oscar-nominated performance by Bullock (and justifiably so). This has been getting rabid kudos from critics and audiences alike since it opened and it is no surprise that it is one of the finalists for the Best Picture Oscar.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The initial collision with the debris field that leaves Bullock’s character spinning out of control and headed for deep space – all against eerie silence.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $258.9 million domestic (as of 1/21/14), $677.7 million total.

BUDGET: $100 million.

STATUS: Still in wide release; scheduled for home video release on February 25.

The Forgotten Kingdom


(Black Kettle) Zenzo Ngqobe, Nozipho Nkelemba, Jerry Mofokeng, Lebohang Ntsane, Moshoshoe Chabeli, Lillian Dube, Sam Phillips. Directed by Andrew Mudge

Released April 5, 2013 This is yet another movie on this list that I first caught at the Florida Film Festival – in this case, the best film I caught at the FFF this year. In it a South African man, living a life of drinking and womanizing, is charged with taking his father – from whom he was estranged – back to Lesotho to be buried. Along the way he rekindles an old flame, learns something about his dad and of himself – and of Africa.

WHY IT IS HERE: An amazing film that drills down father-son relationships and forces you to explore your own relationships with your parents and/or your children. Beautifully shot in gorgeous African vistas, this is a movie so compelling and beautiful that I was thinking about it for days. I’m still thinking about it now.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Atang’s confrontation with Dineo’s father.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: Not available.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Still appearing on the festival circuit. At this time there are no concrete plans for home video release but at some point hopefully that will change.

12 Years a Slave


(Fox Searchlight) Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Lupita Nyong’o, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, Alfre Woodard. Directed by Steve McQueen

Released October 18, 2013 Solomon Northup, a free American of African descent, is betrayed, kidnapped and sold into slavery. Sent to the deep South of the plantations of Louisiana, he is taken away from his wife and children and must learn to survive in the brutal world of the cotton fields, maintaining the hope that one day he will be free once again.

WHY IT IS HERE: Just a magnificently gripping film, one which can show the depths of human depravity one moment and the heights of the strength of the human spirit the next. Ejiofor comes out as a legitimate star here while McQueen who for years has been labeled as a director of enormous promise, fulfills it here.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Solomon Northup sobbing as he is being carted away in a wagon as he is at last set free.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $43.9M (as of 1/2913), $79.0M total.

BUDGET: $20 million.

STATUS: Still in wide release. Expected to be released on home video this spring.

The Act of Killing


 (Drafthouse) Anwars Congo, Herman Koto, Safit Pardede, Adi Zulkadry, Haji Anif, Jusuf Kalla, Ibrahim Sinik, Syamsul Arfin. Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer

Released July 19, 2013 During the Indonesian military takeover in the mid-1960s, thousands upon thousands of Indonesians were murdered by death squad, often led by members of organized crime. In an effort to rid the country of leftists and communists, the net was expanded to include executions of ethnic Chinese and as time went on, basically anyone they wanted. Some of the more notorious death squad leaders were interviewed here and invited to re-enact their crimes in any style they wished; being to a man big fans of Hollywood movies, they would choose some fairly inventive means.

WHY IT IS HERE: I can’t say I enjoyed this movie but the experience of it really changed my perceptions on the notions of forgiveness and humanity. Anwars Congo, one of the most blood-soaked of the death squad leaders (and one of the most revered in Indonesia), is today a grandfatherly sort whose gentle onscreen demeanor is at odds with the horrors of his vicious, cruel and bloodthirsty acts. Is there redemption for men like that? Can one feel sympathy for the devil?

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene on the roof when the horror of his actions catches up with Anwar and he has a violently physical reaction.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $469, 214 domestic (as of 1/29/13), $469,214 total.

BUDGET: $1 million.

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Amazon. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix. Stream from Amazon/iTunes/Netflix.

12 Years a Slave

Could this be the next Best Picture Oscar winner?

Could this be the next Best Picture Oscar winner?

(2013) Historical Biography (Fox Searchlight) Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Adepero Oduye, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson, Lupito Nyong’o, Alfre Woodard, Brad Pitt, Garret Dillahunt, Isiah Jackson, Dwight Henry, Kelsey Scott, Quvenzhane Wallis, Devyn A. Tyler, Willo Jean-Baptiste, Scoot McNairy, Taran Killam, Ashley Dyke. Directed by Steve McQueen

The question we sometimes have to ask about a movie depicting a horrible epoch in human history is why. Why should it be made? After all, it’s not exactly a secret that slavery was a terrible, shameful practice. But do we need to be reminded of that?

I believe that we do. In the same way movies like Schindler’s List reminds us of the holocaust, or Hotel Rwanda reminds us of the horrors of genocide, we need to remind ourselves periodically of the depths of inhumanity that man practices upon other men. We need to be reminded as Nicol Williamson once accurately (albeit bombastically) said in Excalibur that it is the doom of men that they forget.

Solomon Northup (Ejiofor) is a prosperous man in Saratoga, New York in 1841. While he is a black man, he is nonetheless freed and is well-known as a magnificent violinist but also a hard-working carpenter. His wife Anne (Scott) is highly respected as a great cook. They have beautiful children and as African-Americans in the mid-19th century go, a pretty wonderful life.

Then, he is approached by a couple of men calling themselves Hamilton (Killam) and Brown (McNairy) who represent themselves as entertainers in need of an accompanying musician. They are going as far south as Washington, DC. The money is good and the company congenial so Northup agrees to lend his services.

He awakens in chains in a slave market. Gone are his clothes, his papers identifying him as a free man and even his name – he is to be called Platt now. He is sold by the dealer (Giamatti) to Ford (Cumberbatch) who runs a sugar cane plantation near New Orleans. There he goes with the disconsolate Eliza (Oduye) who has been separated from her children. However, Northup gets into a fight with the cruel and barbarous carpenter Tibeats (Dano) who for some reason has it out for Solomon (possibly because Northup was a better carpenter) and for the safety of his slave and of his plantation, the kindly Ford is forced to sell Platt to the cruel Edwin Epps (Fassbender) who runs a cotton plantation.

Epps expects 200 pounds of cotton to be picked by each one; those who fail are lashed cruelly. The best cotton picker is Patsy (Nyong’o) who does three times what the burly men of the plantation can do. Epps has taken an unhealthy sexual interest in her which infuriates his wife (Paulson) who visits cruelties and mutilations upon Patsy. Solomon for his part is keeping his head down low, making sure nobody knows that he can read and write. When Solomon meets an itinerant Canadian carpenter (Pitt), he knows his last chance to get word to those in the North of his whereabouts may be staring him in the face.

Based on the memoirs of the real Solomon Northup, I’m told the film follows the book pretty closely – McQueen insisted on it. While I can’t personally vouch for that, I can say that this is an incredible story told with as much authenticity as the filmmakers can muster. That this is a British production is somewhat ironic that it takes a foreign eye to shed light on an American disgrace.

There is a good deal of brutality. When slaves get whipped, pieces of flesh fly from their back and the resulting cuts are hideous to behold. It’s not easy to watch but this was the reality of what happened. Too often Hollywood portrays a whipping as a grunting actor, jaw heroically clenched against the pain as lines of red appear on his back. In reality, whippings were horrid affairs with a good deal of screaming and bloodshed. To his credit, McQueen doesn’t turn the eyes of the camera away and we see the brutality in unflinching detail.

Ejiofor has long been one of those actors who has been patiently waiting the right role. He’s finally found his. One of the best actors you’ve never heard of out there, he plays Solomon with dignity, with fear and with humanity. Solomon is a smart guy and occasionally able to manipulate Epps but his own inner fire gets him into trouble sometimes. He is a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination come January and is an early favorite to win it.

Fassbender has been busy of late and might get a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his layered and nuanced performance as Epps. Certainly Epps is a cruel and vicious master, but he is also henpecked by his wife to a certain degree and a slave to his own lust for Patsy. Epps could have easily been portrayed as a caricature of a plantation owner; yes, there is evil here but it isn’t cartoon evil but the evil that slavery creates in the slaveowners.

Nyong’o is a newcomer but her performance as Patsy may bring her the kind of notice new actresses dream of. Patsy is the face of despair in the film and Nyong’o handles it with a certain dignity that at once is moving and disturbing. When the despair overwhelms her and she begs Platt to end her misery, one wonders how many slaves took that road off the plantations. Probably many more than we realize – when hope is dead, the will to live generally dies with it.

This is a movie that is certain to be considered for Oscar gold this year and is going to make a lot of year-end top ten lists. While it may be considered an education about slavery, I see it more as a metaphor for the continued inhumanity that we enforce on others. The message here isn’t that slavery is  bad; I’m pretty sure we all get that. It’s how we treat each other today and how our ability to enslave others has informed that treatment that makes this movie so important. While I would hesitate to bring small children to see this, I think parents should bring their teens. Opening the eyes of a younger generation isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

REASONS TO GO: Impeccably acted by Ejiofor and Fassbender. A living breathing testament to the horrors of slavery.

REASONS TO STAY: The violence and brutality can be overwhelming at times.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is plenty of violence and scenes of torture and cruelty. There is also some nudity and sexuality, as well as a few graphic images that may be too intense for the sensitive.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Henry and Wallis both co-starred previously in Beasts of the Southern Wild, also distributed by Fox Searchlight.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/6/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews. Metacritic: 97/100.



NEXT: Italian for Beginners

New Releases for the Week of November 1, 2013

Enders Game


(Summit) Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Nonso Anozie, Brandon Soo Hoo, Moises Arias. Directed by Gavin Hood

After barely surviving a vicious alien invasion, humanity’s future rests on the shoulders of a little boy named Ender. Alone out of all the candidates for Battle School, he shows the most potential to lead humanity to victory against the Formic. However, the aliens are returning and time is running out. Ready or not, Ender must lead the forces of humanity against a formidable foe and impossible odds. Is he up to the challenge?

See the trailer, promos, a clip and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX (opens Thursday night)

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence, sci-fi action and thematic material)

12 Years a Slave

(Fox Searchlight) Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt. This is the true story of an African-American born a free man in New York City. In 1841, Solomon Northup was a respected violinist who traveled around North America performing recitals, but one night he is betrayed, drugged and transported to New Orleans where he is sold as a slave. His struggle to escape and return home to his wife and children became the stuff of legend.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Historical True Life Drama

Rating: R (for violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality)

About Time

(Universal) Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lindsay Duncan. At first skeptical, a young man discovers that he has indeed inherited the family gift to be able to travel back to any moment in his life and relive it. He uses his gift to woo a comely young woman and to make his life better but eventually learns that time travel cannot cure everything and that there is a price to pay for every gift. This is opening at the Regal Winter Park Village only at present in the Orlando area but will expand to most theaters on November 8.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Fantasy

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

Free Birds

(Relativity) Starring the voices of Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler, George Takei. A somewhat delusional militant turkey recruits the very unwilling Thanksgiving turkey presidential pardon for a mission back in time. Their destination: the very first Thanksgiving. Their mission: to substitute some other meat for turkey. Good luck with that.

See the trailer, clips and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for some action/peril and rude humor)

Krrish 3

(Filmkraft) Hrithik Roshan, Priyanka Chopra, Vivek Oberoi, Kangna Ranaut. An Indian superhero must battle an evil scientist and the mutant creatures he has created to save the world from a hostile takeover.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Last Vegas

(CBS) Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline. Four childhood friends, now edging somewhat reluctantly from middle age to old age, decide to head to Sin City to celebrate the impending wedding of the last hold-out to bachelorhood among them. While they’ve changed, so has Vegas baby and once these four hit the Strip, neither will be the same.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and language)

Man of Tai Chi

(Radius) Keanu Reeves, Tiger Hu Chen, Karen Mok, Iko Uwais. A young martial artist studies Tai Chi to improve his spiritual self but an unscrupulous promoter on the underground fight circuit in Hong Kong ropes him into that lucrative field. As the matches grow more intense, the young fighter turns his back on the precepts he once held dear and his will to live must carry him through this crisis.

See the trailer and a link to stream the full movie here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Martial Arts

Rating: R (for violence) 

Skinwalker Ranch

(Deep Studios) Jon Gries, Kyle Davis, Erin Cahill, Devin McGinn. Strange goings-on at an isolated ranch and the literal disappearance of the ranchers 8-year-old son garner media attention. A year afterwards, a security firm sends an investigative team to look into what really happened. What they discover is much more than anyone could have imagined.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror

Rating: R (for language and some violence)


(Media Services) D.B. Sweeney, William Mapother, Melora Walters, Natalie Imbruglia. A perennially underachieving Ohio high school football team gets a new coach, a new attitude and a new lease on life. However, they still have to play their crosstown rival, a traditional powerhouse, in order to make that move to the next level.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Sports Drama

Rating: PG (for some language) 

Four-Warned: October 2013


Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Most of the movies will never play theatrically where you live (unless you live in either New York or Los Angeles) but many of those that won’t will be available through Video-on-Demand; check with your local cable or satellite providers to find out if any specific movie is available through that medium.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

1. GRAVITY (1.0)
4. ESCAPE PLAN (1.5)

1. THE SUMMIT (1.2)
2. CBGB (1.3)
3. 12 YEARS A SLAVE (1.4)
4. A.C.O.D. (1.5)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

OCTOBER 2, 2013

BESHARAM (Reliance) Genre: Bollywood. A young orphan who steals cars to support the orphanage unwittingly hurts the girl he loves and resolves to right all the wrongs he’s done in his life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Stock Bollywood – high energy, low humor, lots of charm and music. What’s not to like?
LET THE FIRE BURN (Zeitgeist) Genre: Documentary. The 1985 firebombing of the MOVE headquarters in Philadelphia by police remains controversial to this day. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 Looks very much like the filmmakers are at least trying to understand all sides of the story.

OCTOBER 4, 2013

A TOUCH OF SIN (Kino Lorber) Genre: Drama. The often devastating effects of China’s economic boom are seen through the eyes of four ordinary citizens from four different provinces. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.7 From the director some say is China’s Kurosawa.
A.C.O.D. (The Film Arcade) Genre: Comedy. A man whose parents divorced acrimoniously tries to get them to put aside their differences so they can both attend his younger brother’s wedding with surprising side effects. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.5 One of the standouts at Sundance this year; see my review of it here.
ALL IS BRIGHT (Anchor Bay) Genre: Comedy. An oddball French-Canadian pair of losers try to make a bundle of cash selling Christmas Trees in New York City. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Doesn’t look all that bad.
ARGENTO’S DRACULA 3D (IFC Midnight) Genre: Horror. An undead Transylvanian count sets his evil eye on an innocent wife of an Englishman. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.6 A horror master shows us just why the ultimate vampire tale is still the scariest.
BAD MILO (Magnet) Genre: Horror Comedy. A stressed-out man discovers a demon living in his intestines is escaping at night and killing those who have wronged him. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Unusual, irreverent, gory and completely without redeeming social value – my kind of film.
CONCUSSION (Radius) Genre: Drama. After a head injury, a soccer mom decides her life is unfulfilling and decides to take up prostitution. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Provocative, wrenching and passionate – was one of the most talked-about films at this year’s Sundance.
THE DIRTIES (Phase 4/Kevin Smith Movie Club) Genre: Drama. A pair of bullied friends making a film for class find the lines between reality and celluloid starting to blur. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.5 Disturbing on a lot of different levels but certainly captures the culture of violence (mental and physical) in our high schools.
FIVE DANCES (Paladin) Genre: Drama. A talented young dancer tries to make it in a prestigious New York modern dance troupe. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.8 Sort of like Fame, updated.
GRACE UNPLUGGED (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Faith. A Christian songwriter’s faith is tested when she goes to Los Angeles to try and make it as a pop superstar. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 4.0 Not interested in the least.
GRAVITY (Warner Brothers) Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller. Two astronauts are stranded in Earth orbit when their shuttle is destroyed. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.0 Might well be a surprise Oscar contender from filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron and stars George Clooney and Sandra Bullock.
I USED TO BE DARKER (Strand) Genre: Drama. When a troubled Irish teen visits her aunt and uncle in Baltimore, she is thrust into a situation in which her own problems become secondary to those of her family. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.9 Could be a powerful film but can’t really tell from the trailer.
NARCO CULTURA (Cinedigm) Genre: Documentary. The increasing glorification of drug traffickers among Mexicans and American Latinos is examined. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.0 The romance of the outlaw life isn’t dead; it’s just learned to speak Spanish.
PARKLAND (Exclusive) Genre: True Life Drama. An ordinary day at Parkland Hospital on November 22, 1963 becomes anything but. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 A different perspective on the JFK assassination.
RUNNER RUNNER (20th Century Fox) Genre: Thriller. A college student trying to win his tuition money at the online poker tables unwittingly finds himself drawn into a maelstrom of corruption and danger. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 Sort of a prototypical early Fall movie; should tide us over until the blockbusters start to arrive in a few weeks.
RUNNING WILD: THE LIFE OF DAYTON O. HYDE (Screen Media) Genre: Documentary. The story of a man who has devoted the last 23 years of his life to protecting the wild mustangs of the Black Hills. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 The last of the authentic American cowboys.
THE SUMMIT(Sundance Selects) Genre: Documentary. A disastrous attempt to summit K2 leads to questions about the nature of adventure in the 21st century. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.2 Looks really interesting.
VIKINGDOM (Epic) Genre: Action. A Viking hero ventures to Hell to retrieve a powerful artifact to prevent Thor from using it to take over the Earth. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 I like the concept but looks kind of chintzy.

OCTOBER 11, 2013

ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE (Radius) Genre: Horror. A young virginal girl is invited to a party at a secluded ranch, but the revelers start to disappear one by one. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Although the buzz about this has been strong, it’s been sitting on the shelf for years which always makes me wonder why.
BROADWAY IDIOT (Film Buff) Genre: Documentary. Nobody would have thought that a classic punk pop album could be turned into a Broadway musical but here’s the story of American Idiot. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Definitely nothing I ever expected would happen so I’m curious to see how it did.
CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (Columbia) Genre: True Life Drama. The captain of the MV Maersk Alabama must show uncommon valor when pirates board his vessel. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.2 I’ll basically see Tom Hanks in just about anything, but this one looks to be worth seeing even if he wasn’t in it.
CBGB (XLRator) Genre: True Life Drama. The story of perhaps the most influential club in the history of rock music. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.3 Awesome soundtrack and terrific cast; Alan Rickman was never better.
ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW (Producers Distribution Agency) Genre: Fantasy/Drama. A father of two, cracking under the strain of a lost job, a shrewish wife and an expensive trip to Disney World, begins to hallucinate. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Shot guerrilla-style at Disney World without permission, looks rather unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
GHOST TEAM ONE (The Film Arcade) Genre: Horror Comedy. After accidentally awakening an ancient evil, a pair of roommates enlist a sexy paranormal investigator and end up vying for her affections with a demonic presence. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 One of the few Florida Film Festival entries this year we didn’t get to catch.
I WILL FOLLOW YOU INTO THE DARK (Epic) Genre: Horror. A woman whose parents recently passed away finds love with a new man but when she discovers him missing and his bed splattered with blood, she hunts in the labyrinthine apartment complex to run up against a supernatural force that doesn’t want him found. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 Looks truly frightening but thought-provoking at the same time; color me interested.
THE INEVITABLE DEFEAT OF MISTER AND PETE (Codeblack) Genre: Drama. Two young boys survive in the mean streets of New York without adult supervision. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.7 Everything I can’t stand about movies – kids that are far smarter than adults and stereotypes about the African-American poor.
MACHETE KILLS (Open Road) Genre: Action. The ex-Federale is personally recruited by the President to take on a maniacal arms dealer hell-bent on setting up Armageddon. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.6 Corny but in a good way – and as action packed as any ten B-movies you’re likely to see.
ROMEO AND JULIET (Relativity) Genre: Tragedy. A new take on the Bard’s most famous play, with Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth as the title characters. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.3 Although I love Shakespeare, this is one of my least favorite plays of his – possibly because I’ve seen it so often.
ZERO CHARISMA (Tribeca) Genre: Comedy. When a nerdish dungeon master’s reign is challenged by a new hipster gamer joining his group, all Hell breaks out. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 This is my movie and these are my people.

OCTOBER 16, 2013

CAMILLE CLAUDEL, 1915 (Kino Lorber) Genre: Biographical Drama. The true story of a brilliant sculptress and protégé of Rodin who was confined to an asylum possibly because of her intense creativity and Bohemian mores.. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Juliette Binoche is an amazing actress and this movie is populated with actual asylum patients to add realism.

OCTOBER 18, 2013

12 YEARS A SLAVE (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Biographical Drama. The true story of a free African-American in pre-Civil War New York abducted and sold as a slave. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 Might be the role that wins Chiwetel Ejiofor an Oscar; it will certainly win him some consideration for a nomination.
2 JACKS (Breaking Glass) Genre: Drama. The son of a legendary womanizing Hollywood director comes to town for his first turn in the director’s chair only to have the daughter of a woman his father seduced years ago fall in love with him. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 The sound on the trailer I saw was very poorly mixed, but the movie has a good cast and a decent premise – could be worth checking out.
ADVENTURES IN THE SIN BIN (Phase 4) Genre: Teen Sex Comedy. A shy young teen virgin lends out his van to his friends for their sexual exploits and gradually gets a lesson in the art of seducing girls. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Doesn’t look like it’s going to add anything to the genre.
ALL IS LOST (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Drama. A lone sailor confronts his own potential demise when his sailboat is disabled after a collision and drifts into the path of a massive storm.. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 Could be another iconic performance for Robert Redford.
BIG ASS SPIDER (Self-Released) Genre: Horror Spoof. When the city is invaded by a giant spider, only a plucky exterminator stands between mankind and oblivion. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 One of my favorite actors, Greg Grunberg, finally gets a lead role.
CARRIE (Screen Gems/MGM) Genre: Horror. A picked-on high school girl whose mother is an authentic religious nut develops powerful telekinetic abilities and uses them to exact revenge on her tormentors. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 The original was magnificent so I don’t see the need for a remake; that said, Chloe Moretz is an amazing actress and if anyone can do justice to the part, she can.
ENZO AVITABILE MUSIC LIFE (Shadow) Genre: Musical Documentary. One of the greatest musicians you’ve never heard of is this singer/songwriter/saxophonist from Naples. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.2 Jonathan Demme is the Oscar-winning director of Stop Making Sense.
ESCAPE PLAN (Summit) Genre: Action. A breakout specialist sent to test a brand new super maximum security prison is betrayed and left to rot inside; he must find a way to escape from the high-tech escape-proof Tomb and pay a guy who did it a visit. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.5 Gotta like the pairing of Stallone and Schwarzenegger. Sample dialogue – Arnold: You hit like a vegetarian. Stallone: KA-POW! Arnold (gasping): That was good.
THE FIFTH ESTATE (DreamWorks) Genre: True Life Drama. WikiLeaks has dedicated itself to exposing corporate and governmental corruption by publishing classified documents but when they get information that may put lives at risk, the cost of those lives against the right of the world to know what our country is up to must be weighed. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.3 Another potential Oscar contender.
HAUNTER (IFC Midnight) Genre: Horror. The ghost of a young girl who died under mysterious circumstances tries to save the family living in her house now from sharing the same fate. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Seems to be a little bit like Beetlejuice only serious; great concept!
HELLBENDERS (Lionsgate) Genre: Horror Spoof. A team of unauthorized priests battle demonic possession and the Vatican. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 Looks kind of funny actually.
I’M IN LOVE WITH A CHURCH GIRL (High Top) Genre: Faith Drama. A former drug trafficker still under DEA scrutiny falls in love with a devout young woman who tries her hardest to bring him into the light of the Lord. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 4.0 I simply don’t go to the movies to be preached to.
KILL YOUR DARLINGS (Sony Classics) Genre: Biographical Drama. A brutal murder brings together writers Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 3.1 Beat Generation noir. Great cast though.
PARADISE (RLJ/Image) Genre: Dramedy. After getting paid an insurance settlement, a starry-eyed young woman from a cloistered small town decides to experience sin in the best place for it – Las Vegas! Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 While Russell Brand and Julianne Hough aren’t my two favorite actors and Diablo Cody isn’t my favorite writer, I have to admit I was intrigued by the trailer.
TORN (The Film Collective/Brainstorm) Genre: Drama. Two families, bonding in grief when their teenage sons are killed in an explosion at a suburban mall, are torn apart when their sons are investigated for possibly setting the bombs. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles October 25). RATING: 2.0 Could be a powerful film indeed, although the trailer left me with the impression that it’s highly possible that the movie squanders the opportunity by being histrionic and manipulative.

OCTOBER 25, 2013

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (Sundance Selects) Genre: Drama. When a 15-year-old French girl tries to assert her sexual identity by finding boys to become intimate with, she instead takes up with an older French woman. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.5 Quite possibly the most acclaimed film to come out of Sundance this year.
THE COUNSELOR (20th Century Fox) Genre: Thriller. A lawyer gets involved in a shady business deal that rapidly spirals out of control. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.8 Director Ridley Scott and stars like Fassbender, Bardem, Diaz, Cruz and Pitt and written by Cormac McCarthy – I think I’m in love.
JACKASS PRESENTS BAD GRANDPA (Paramount) Genre: Comedy. A faux old man and his “grandson” make hidden camera vignettes with unsuspecting people put in outrageous situations. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.8 Yes, from the idiots at Jackass but I have to admit I was laughing hysterically at the trailer.
THE SQUARE (City Drive) Genre: Documentary. Referring to Tahrir Square where many of the demonstrations of the Arab Spring occurred, the story of the overthrow of the despotic Mubarak government is chronicled through the eyes of the various activists – both Muslim Brotherhood and liberal alike – who took part. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.1 I would probably want to see this even more if I could locate a trailer for the damn thing.
WILDE SALOME (Self-Released) Genre Documentary. Al Pacino’s version of Oscar Wilde’s controversial play Salome is examined as this documentary explores the creative process for Pacino and co-star Jessica Chastain from start to finish. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 An insight into Pacino as we’ve never seen him before.

OCTOBER 30, 2013

IN THE NAME OF… (Film Movement) Genre: Thriller. An attractive priest helps minister to a halfway house until a troublemaking newcomer spreads rumors about the priest’s sexuality, sparking homophobia and Antisemitism. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 Very provocative and somewhat intriguing.
SKINWALKER RANCH (Deep Studios) Genre: Sci-Fi Horror. Mysterious goings on at a ranch bring in a task force of scientific professionals…who find themselves in way over their heads. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 One of the most effective trailers I’ve ever seen.

Gravity, Runner Runner, Captain Phillips, Machete Kills, Romeo and Juliet, 12 Years a Slave, Escape Plan, The Counselor