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.

HONORABLE MENTION

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

10.  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

9. 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

8. 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.

BUDGET: $100M

STATUS: Still out in wide release.

The Hunt

7. THE HUNT (JAGTEN)

(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

6. 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

5. 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.

Gravity

4. GRAVITY

(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

3. 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

2.  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

1. 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.

Advertisements

Good Ol’ Freda


Best. Job. Ever.

Best. Job. Ever.

(2013) Documentary (Magnet) Freda Kelly, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Lennon, Tony Barrow, Billy Kinsley, Billy Hatton, Elsie Starkey, Louise Harrison, Harold Hargreaves “Harry” Harrison, Maureen Tigrett, Brian Epstein. Directed by Ryan White

Most of us have a sense of the Beatles largely through the many biographies – most of which are written by outsiders – or through media accounts of the group. Few in their inner circle have stepped forward to give their accounts of Beatlemania.

Freda Kelly was a 17 year old devotee of the band who worked in a secretarial pool in Liverpool and would see the band play at the Cavern Club during their lunch hours. She got to know the boys in the band who would often give her lifts home when she would go to see them in the evening hours. When Brian Epstein took over the management of the band, he knew that they would need help in the office and asked Freda if she was up to the task. She would work this job until the band broke up, as well as running their fan club which was how many of the band’s fans got to know her name.

She rarely spoke of her time managing the fan club or the secretarial needs of the Fab Four even to her own children. Although she has scrapbooks and old fan club magazines, much of the memorabilia that she collected over the years she gave to the fans. Kelly, who began as a fan herself and continued to be after the demise of the band, empathized with them and felt a responsibility to the fans as well as to the band.

In this documentary, she talks about her time with the band but true to form she’s reticent to dish any dirt. Fiercely loyal, she feels bound to keep private those things that are personal about the band even though forty years have passed and half the members have passed on. There’s something to be said for that.

Freda has a certain charming guilelessness about her. She never sought the spotlight nor is she really seeking it out now. She felt that she wanted to get her story out so that her grandchildren would know what she did, motivated by the untimely death of her eldest son. In fact, her surviving daughter says on camera that she never really spoke about her time with the band when they were growing up and even today her friends are shocked to discover that she once worked with the Beatles.

She certainly hasn’t profited by her time with the band, although she might have with a tell-all book as some have done in the past. She’s a working class girl from a working class town who has just gone on about things. She isn’t particularly charismatic which might be the secret to her anonymity and may have saved her from the savage side of that spotlight.

Some critics have groused about the lack of focus on the Beatles but this isn’t about them. It is about living with them, just out of the limelight but certainly affected by it. The documentary has a lot of Freda’s personal photos of her with the band, or her at the office. We get a bit of a view as to what it took to run the empire but mostly through the days of Beatlemania – the later days when the band got into drugs, Eastern religion and psychedelia and began to implode are pretty much glossed over. Some may well find that disingenuous.

Still, you can’t help get a warm glow of nostalgia in your bones leaving the theater, particularly if you lived through the era or were simply a Beatles fan. Me, I’m both so I have to say that Good Ol’ Freda might get a bit more of a pass from my sort than it might from younger critics. After all, I’m a fan just like Freda Kelly was – perhaps not to the extent that I would have asked for a lock of Paul’s hair or a bit of John’s shirt, or asked Ringo to sleep on a pillowcase and have it returned to me. There’s a fine line between fandom and obsession after all. Still, I loved the band and their music made up the soundtrack of my life to a large extent, and one has to recognize the band’s importance in pop culture and music in general even if one is a snot-nosed young critic. Or a starry-eyed old one.

REASONS TO GO: A good way for people of a certain age to get the warm fuzzies. Some priceless behind-the-scenes pics and anecdotes.

REASONS TO STAY: Occasionally repetitive.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a whole lot of smoking and a few sexual and drug references.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film title comes from the band’s 1963 Christmas message in which they namecheck their secretary and fan club president (the message is played at the beginning of the film).

CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/2/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: 60/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Imagine: John Lennon

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Philomena

New Releases for the Week of November 29, 2013


Frozen

FROZEN         

(Disney) Starring the voices of Kristen Bell, Idris Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk, Ciaran Hinds. Edie McClurg. Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

In a kingdom of eternal winter, an optimistic and brave girl teams up with a rugged mountain man, his loyal reindeer and a bumbling snowman to take on the forces of magic that have locked it there. The trouble is that the evil witch holding the kingdom spellbound is her sister.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for some action and mild rude humor)

Black Nativity

(Fox Searchlight) Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, Jacob Latimore. A streetwise teenage Baltimore boy is forced to spend the holidays with his strict and devout relatives the Rev. Cobbs and his wife. Unwilling to live by the strict rules imposed by the pastor, he decides that he will return home to his mother, opening himself up for an unexpected Christmas miracle.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Holiday Drama (opens Wednesday)

Rating: PG (for thematic material, language and a menacing situation)

The Book Thief

(20th Century Fox) Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Sophie Nelisse, Roger Allam. During the Second World War a spirited young girl is sent to live with a new family in Nazi Germany. In a place where books are routinely burned and ideas that conflict with official state policy are dangerous, she  finds courage in the immense power of words and books.

See the trailer, a clip and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and intense depiction of thematic material) 

Bullett Raja

(Fox STAR) Saif Ali Khan, Sonakshi Sinha, Vidyut Jamwal, Jimmy Shergill. An ordinary man is pushed to the limit and turns to a life of crime. Now a powerful criminal, he declares war on Indian society in an effort to take down the corruption that forced him to the other side of the law.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Good Ol’ Freda

(Magnolia) Freda Kelly, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr. As a shy young teen in Liverpool, Freda Kelly was asked to work for a young local band with great aspirations. She became the secretary to the Beatles as well as their friend and confidante. This documentary tells her story set to the music of the Fab Four, offering a whole new perspective on the band that changed popular music – and world culture – forever.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG (for some thematic material and smoking)

Homefront

(Open Road) Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder, Kate Bosworth. When a DEA agent’s wife passes away, he leaves the agency to settle down in a small town community to raise his daughter quietly and get past his own grief. Unfortunately the town he chooses is far from quiet or quaint and soon he finds himself in a war that he will have to go all out to win and keep his daughter safe.

See the trailer, a featurette and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong violence, pervasive language, drug content and brief sexuality)

Oldboy

(FilmDistrict) Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharlto Copley. An ad executive and family man is kidnapped and held in a locked room for 20 years. In that time he discovers that his wife has been murdered and that he has been framed for the crime. When he is just as suddenly and as inexplicably released he goes on a quest to discover who imprisoned him and why. The more he discovers however, the more he realizes that his torment is far from over.

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

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for strong brutal violence, disturbing images, some graphic sexuality and nudity, and language)

Philomena

(Weinstein) Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Mare Winningham. An elderly woman and a BBC reporter go on a journey to find her son who was conceived out of wedlock and given up for adoption to an American couple. Although she had signed a waiver promising never to look into her son’s whereabouts, she still feels that connection and defies the Catholic Church and convention to reunite with the baby she gave up so many years ago.

See the trailer, a clip and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: True Life Drama

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

Four-Warned: September 2013


Riddick

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.

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.

FOUR TO SEE
1. RIDDICK (1.1)
2. PRISONERS (1.6)
3. RUSH (1.7)
TIE. INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 (1.7)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. SALINGER (1.0)
2. MOTHER OF GEORGE (1.2)
3. I AM BREATHING (1.3)
4. GOOD OL’ FREDA (1.4)
TIE. WADJDA (1.4)

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

SEPTEMBER 4, 2013

LA MAISON DE LA RADIO (Kino Lorber) Genre: Documentary. A look inside the inner workings of Radio France, the national radio of that country. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Looks pretty quirky as you would expect for a movie like this.

SEPTEMBER 6, 2013

99% – THE OCCUPY WALL STREET COLLABORATIVE FILM (Participant) Genre: Documentary. The story of the left-leaning activists who captured the attention of the public in 2011 and what’s next for their movement. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Could be an uplifting film that inspires activism or propaganda that turns people off.
A TEACHER (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Genre: Drama. A Texas high school teacher embarks on an affair with one of her students, heedless to the cost to her career and her lover. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 Despite the prurient elements is one of those movies that you absolutely can’t look away from for even a second.
ADORE (Exclusive Media) Genre: Drama. Two lifelong friends explore the limits of sensuality and love – with each other’s adult sons. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Scandalous and perhaps a little bit wrong but with actresses like Robin Wright and Naomi Watts in the lead roles it’s oh so right.
BOUNTY KILLER (ARC Entertainment) Genre: Action. Assassins target greedy corporate types who have laid waste to the Earth. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Elements of comedy, sci-fi, social commentary and ’70s B-Movie/’80s Direct-to-Video action classics.
THE BUTCHER BOYS (Phase 4) Genre: Horror. A birthday celebration at an upscale restaurant leads to a shocking revelation to a group of friends of the existence of cannibals in the inner city. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.3 Meh. Touts that it’s from the creator of Texas Chainsaw Massacre but seems to be a direct rip-off of it.
GOOD OL’ FREDA (Magnolia) Genre: Documentary. The story of the Beatles is told through the eyes of their long-time secretary. Release Strategy: New York City (opens in Los Angeles September 13). RATING: 1.4 Looks completely charming and a must-see for any Beatles fan.
HELL BABY (Millennium) Genre: Horror Comedy. An expectant couple that move into a New Orleans fixer-upper require the Vatican’s elite exorcism team to fix up a possession of their unborn child. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.3 Looks a little better than most horror spoofs but that isn’t saying much.
I AM BREATHING (Self-Distributed) Genre: Documentary. Stricken with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), a young British father determines to chronicle his illness and decline for his infant son. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.3 Awesome, affecting, funny – this should be on everyone’s must-see list.
MY FATHER AND THE MAN IN BLACK (New Chapter) Genre: Documentary. Correspondence between Johnny Cash and his long-time manager Saul Holiff reveals insights into the country legend’s life. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.8 Holiff’s son is the filmmaker and as a son he is looking for answers about his father; not bad premise for a film.
OUT OF THE CLEAR BLUE SKY (AREA23A) Genre: Documentary. Cantor Fitzgerald had the largest single loss of life of any entity during 9-11; how their survivors coped from that terrible loss is chronicled here. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Not sure about this one; probably very emotional but wondering if there’s more to it than that.
POPULAIRE (Weinstein) Genre: Comedy. A housewife fleeing a life of drudgery in 1958 finds she has a special talent – she can type really fast! Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Being a French film there’s also romance involved.
RED OBSESSION (Film Buff) Genre: Documentary. China’s affluent consumer base has developed an obsession for French Bordeaux wines, fueling wide-ranging consequences for the French wine-producing region. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 A fascinating look at the realities of how global marketplaces can have devastating effects on local communities.
RIDDICK (Universal) Genre: Science Fiction. Betrayed and left for dead on a planet with dangerous creatures, Riddick’s only hope for escape lies in the bounty hunters coming to kill him. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.1 Even the bloated Chronicles of Riddick was entertaining.
SALINGER (Weinstein) Genre: Documentary. The life of reclusive author J.D. Salinger and the effect of hi novel The Catcher in the Rye on society is told through interviews and rare footage. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.0 I’m calling it right now – this is your winner for Best Documentary at the next Oscars.
SHUDDH DESI ROMANCE (Yash Raj) Genre: Bollywood. An exploration of what comes between physical attraction and permanent commitment. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 One of the only trailers I’ve ever seen that shows an image of a condom.
THINGS NEVER SAID (Ohio Street) Genre: Urban Romance. A woman with a poet’s soul yearns to escape her abusive marriage and perform her works onstage in New York. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.4 The trouble with doing these sorts of stories is that the poetry can come off as pretentious if it isn’t read from the heart.
TOUCHY FEELY (Magnolia) Genre: Comedy. A massage therapist develops a phobic aversion to contact while her brother develops a healing touch. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Director Lynn Shelton is quickly becoming one of my favorites; her work is high quality every time out.
THE ULTIMATE LIFE (High Top) Genre: Drama. A wealthy man whose life is unraveling finds meaning in the journal of his grandfather. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.8 The sequel to the faith-based film The Ultimate Gift.
WINNIE MANDELA (RLJ/Image) Genre: Biographical Drama. The story of the former First Lady of South Africa whose courage and strength continues to be an inspiration. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Jennifer Hudson knocks this one out of the park.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2013

MADEMOISELLE C (Cohen Media Group) Genre: Documentary. Carine Roitfeld, the longtime editor of the French Vogue magazine, oversees the start of her own magazine. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.9 It’s about fashion? Never mind.

SEPTEMBER 13, 2013

AND WHILE WE WERE HERE (Well Go USA) Genre: Romance. A woman accompanying her husband on a business trip to Amalfi loses herself in her grandmother’s diary…and an affair with a younger man. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Nice setting but the trailer didn’t reveal any kind of spark…I could be wrong though.
BLUE CAPRICE (Sundance Selects) Genre: Thriller. A fictionalized account of the Beltway Sniper. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Looks genuinely creepy; hard to believe from the trailer that this isn’t from a veteran director.
THE FAMILY (Relativity) Genre: Comedy. An ex-mobster who testified against his own has a hard time adjusting to life in Witness Protection – as does his family. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.3 Great cast – Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones, De Niro – and set in France, too.
GMO OMG (Submarine Deluxe) Genre: Documentary. The controversial subject of lab-assisted genetic modification of food is examined. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 I’m guessing Monsanto isn’t going to look too good in this one.
HARRY DEAN STANTON: PARTLY FICTION (Adopt) Genre: Documentary. A portrait of the actor through interviews, images and his own renditions of American folk songs. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 He seems to be a very interesting guy; I’m curious to see how this turns out.
HERB & DOROTHY 50X50 (Fine Line) Genre: Documentary. The last chapter in the story of Herb and Dorothy Vogel and their remarkable art collection. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Those who love art and its preservation will be interested in this.
INFORMANT (Music Box) Genre: Documentary. Brandon Darby, once a darling of the left, gave information to the FBI that convicted some of his comrades and became a hero of the Tea Party.. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 An intriguing documentary from this year’s Florida Film Festival; read my review here.
INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 (FilmDistrict) Genre: Supernatural Horror. After events of the first chapter, the Lambert family find that the sinister supernatural forces that plagued them aren’t quite done with them yet. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.7 The first Insidious was a well-crafted horror film that was good enough to make me want more.
JAYNE MANSFIELD’S CAR (Anchor Bay) Genre: Comedy. Three generations of fathers and sons in the Deep South deal with secrets, changes, love, life and the Vietnam War in their own unique ways. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Amazing cast, directed by, written by and starring Billy Bob Thornton – as close to a must-see as you’re going to get.
MOTHER OF GEORGE (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Genre: Drama. The inability of a Brooklyn couple of Nigerian descent to conceive a child leads to a desperate decision that may tear them apart. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.2 A heart-wrenching look at African culture trying to adjust to American culture.
SAMPLE THIS (GoDigital) Genre: Documentary. The story of the Incredible Bongo Band who in the 1970s had a career that went nowhere – until a DJ used their percussion beats, playing them back to back and laying the groundwork for modern hip-hop. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 4.0 Not a musical style I’m into so I doubt I’ll be seeing this one.
WADJDA (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. A lion-hearted Saudi girl challenges social conventions by attempting to buy a bicycle of her own. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.4 Looks like a really special film.

SEPTEMBER 18, 2013

NEWLYWEEDS (Phase 4) Genre: Dramedy. A hip young Bed-Stuy couple share a voracious appetite for weed. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.9 Nothing really struck me here as particularly insightful.

SEPTEMBER 20, 2013

A SINGLE SHOT (Tribeca) Genre: Drama. When a hunter accidentally shoots a woman and finds a stash of cash near her body, he quickly becomes the hunted when he discovers that the money belonged to a vicious criminal. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Looks taut and engaging and with Sam Rockwell in the lead role, color me intrigued.
AFTER TILLER (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Genre: Documentary. After the murder of Dr. George Tiller, only four doctors in America now openly perform third trimester abortions; this is the story of four doctors living with a target on their backs. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 It’s a highly volatile, emotional subject but one which deserves proper examination – not just sloganeering and blind justification.
BATTLE OF THE YEAR 3D (Screen Gems) Genre: Urban Dance. A group of determined young people attempt to take the International Hip Hop Dancing crown back to the United States. Release Strategy: Wide (3D). RATING: 4.0 I couldn’t be any less interested.
C.O.G. (Screen Media) Genre: Dramedy. A cocky young Ivy Leaguer goes to Oregon to pick apples and find himself. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Based on a short story by David Sedaris, one of the best writers I know of.
THE COLONY (RLJ) Genre: Science Fiction. After Earth is swallowed up by a new ice age, Colony Seven battles plagues, shortages and internal conflict but when they lose contact with the only other remaining human settlement they will battle something else entirely Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Reminds me a little bit of Alien.
ENOUGH SAID (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Comedy. A woman’s developing relationship with a new beau is threatened by the constant bad-mouthing by her best friend of her ex-husband. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 From director Nicole Holofcener (one of my faves) and features one of James Gandolfini’s last performances.
THE FACE OF LOVE (IFC) Genre: Romance. Mourning the love of her life five years later, a woman falls in love with her dead lover’s exact double. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.5 Sounds intriguing but couldn’t locate a trailer for it.
GENERATION IRON (Vladar) Genre: Documentary. A new generation of bodybuilders compete for the prestigious Mr. Olympia title. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.9 Narrated by Mickey Rourke with interviews with (among others) Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno.
HAUTE CUISINE (Weinstein) Genre Biographical Drama. When a renowned chef is named the personal chef of the French President, she discovers that politics can create minefields everywhere – even in the kitchen. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 Seeing the trailer made me suddenly hungry for a nice French meal.
IP MAN: THE FINAL FIGHT (Well Go USA) Genre: Martial Arts. The legendary martial artist comes out of retirement to fight one last time against the Triads in post-war Hong Kong. Release Strategy: Los Angeles only. RATING: 2.1 This is the fourth film about Ip Man to receive US release in the last three years.
JERUSALEM (National Geographic) Genre: Documentary. A city that is sacred to three major world religions and has seen more than its share of bloodshed. Release Strategy: Wide (IMAX). RATING: 1.9 One of the most fascinating places on Earth, can’t wait to see this on the giant screen.
MY LUCKY STAR (China Lion) Genre: Romantic Comedy. Jet-setting Sophie embarks on a romantic adventure of intrigue and mistaken identity. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Looks a little bit silly but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
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.
PLUS ONE (IFC Midnight) Genre: Supernatural Thriller. Three friends at a club looking for love/sex encounter an unexplainable phenomenon. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Looks very odd and very unique – I’m intrigued about this one.
PRISONERS (Warner Brothers) Genre: Thriller. The fathers of two missing children resort to extreme lengths to get their girls back. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.6 Up-and-coming director Denis Villeneuve and Hugh Jackman, Viola Davis, Jake Gyllenhaal and Terrence Howard make this a movie I can’t wait to see.
RUSH (Universal) Genre: Biographical Drama. The rivalry between Formula One racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda captivates the racing world. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (opening wide September 27). RATING: 1.7 Director Ron Howard looks like he’s come up with another winner.
THE SHORT GAME (Phase 4/Goldwyn) Genre: Documentary. The best 7-year-old golfers in the world gather at the Pinehurst Country Club in North Carolina to see who the next superstars in golf are going to be. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 4.0 Golf does nothing for me and 7-year-old golfers does even less.
THANKS FOR SHARING (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Dramedy. A group of friends in recovery for sex addiction learn to cope with life together. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 A very nice cast (Mark Ruffalo, Gwynneth Paltrow, Tim Robbins, Josh Gad) and looks like it has a whole lot of heart.
THE WIZARD OF OZ IMAX 3D (MGM) Genre: Family. The family classic gets the upcharge treatment. Release Strategy: Wide (IMAX 3D). RATING: 3.5 I’m sure it looks amazing – but is it really worth the upcharge to see it when it is so readily available without a charge?

SEPTEMBER 27, 2013

AS I LAY DYING (Millennium) Genre: Action. Transporting the body of their mother to her home town to burial proves to be much more challenging as the elements conspire against them . Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Directed by and starring James Franco this looks pretty interesting.
BAGGAGE CLAIM (20th Century Fox) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A flight attendant uses her connections to try and get engaged before her younger sister’s wedding 30 days away. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 Been done elsewhere (i.e. What’s Your Number) and it wasn’t much good then.
CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2 (Columbia) Genre: Animated Feature. Flint Lockwood must return to Swallow Falls to contain the out of control invention that has evolved food into living – and dangerous – creatures. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 2.9 The first Cloudy wasn’t too bad but I’m not so sure about this one.
DON JON (Relativity) Genre: Romance. A working class ladies man becomes smitten with a woman obsessed with Hollywood romances – but his porn addiction might just put a kibosh on the relationship before it starts. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.8 Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directing debut and a pretty keen starring role for him.
METALLICA THROUGH THE NEVER (Picturehouse) Genre: Concert Film/Fantasy. A roadie is sent on a mission by Metal Gods Metallica to rescue a concert performance which turns out to be more fantastic than he anticipated. Release Strategy: Wide (IMAX 3D; opening in Standard/3D on October 4). RATING: 3.0 An intriguing genre mash-up but will it appeal beyond Metallica’s fan base?
MORNING (Anchor Bay) Genre: Drama. The tragic death of their son puts a married couple into a maelstrom of grief which threatens to destroy them as a couple and as individuals. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 Looks awfully powerful; veteran character actor Leland Orser directs and stars.
MUSCLE SHOALS (Magnolia) Genre: Musical Documentary. The FAME and Muscle Shoals studios, both on the banks of the Tennessee River in Alabama, defied the odds to become major influences on popular music. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 3.7 The trailer really didn’t particularly move me to want to see this.
THE SECRET LIVES OF DORKS (Gravitas Ventures) Genre: Comedy. A popular cheerleader, hoping to deflect the attention of a lovesick socially awkward comic book geek, tries to hook him up with a female dork – leading to complete catastrophe. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Revenge of the Nerds for the 21st century only not as funny.
THERESE (LD Entertainment) Genre: Period Romance. In mid-19th Century France, a sexually repressed wife embarks on an extramarital affair which leads to tragic consequences. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 No trailer available for this one, the second version of the Emile Zola novel Therese Raquin this year – this one is an American version starring Elizabeth Olsen (not to be confused with the French film starring Audrey Tatou).

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
Riddick, The Family, Prisoners, Rush, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, Don Jon