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.

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Gravity


In space, nobody can hear you scream "OH CRAP!!!!"

In space, nobody can hear you scream “OH CRAP!!!!”

(2013) Thriller (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

Some movies go for a visceral experience, using special effects to bedazzle and wow their audience. Others go for an emotional experience, using the dialogue and characters to create a response in their audience. It is a rare thing for filmmakers to attempt both in the same film.

Gravity is a game-changer in almost every sense of the word. Here, we are treated to a magnificent view of a space shuttle mission drifting in space with the curve of planet Earth hanging above them. It is breathtaking in and of itself. The mission to make some software updates and minor repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope is commanded by Matt Kowalski (Clooney), an affable, devilishly handsome country music fan on his last mission hoping to break a Russian cosmonaut’s record for longest space walk. With him is Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock), a mission specialist on her first trip into the great big out there. Kowalski is testing a brand new thruster pack that is working much better than the repairs and upgrade to the Hubble are.

Then Mission Control (Harris) orders them back to the shuttle for an emergency evacuation. It seems that the Russians have spontaneously decided to destroy one of their spy satellites but in typical Russian fashion haven’t really thought it through. The resulting explosion set off a chain reaction of debris impacting other satellites which in turn sends off more debris to impact more satellites. Small pieces of satellite are hurtling through orbit at speeds faster than bullets, wiping out everything in their path. GPS and communications satellites are going down rapidly as the debris approaches the shuttle and its crew.

The shuttle and the Hubble are destroyed in a silent, spectacular spray of debris. Only Ryan and Matt survive the initial disaster but they are far from out of the woods. Their ride home destroyed, they will need to find some other means of getting back. The International Space Station is near enough by that they can use the Soyuz craft as a lifeboat but that too has been hit by debris, leaving only a Chinese space station as a last hope. Dr. Stone, living with her own tragedy and with little experience, must summon up every bit of training she’s received and every ounce of courage she possesses to find a way back home against all odds.

Let’s look at the visual aspect of the film first – in a word, stunning. I think it’s safe to say that this is the most immersive special effects experience in any movie since Avatar. You are brought into a world that is made utterly believable and real and at the same time utterly alien. While in Avatar that world was Pandora, here it is outer space. You never for an instant doubt that these are astronauts floating in the weightlessness of zero gravity. It is an astonishing achievement of special effects. Don’t be surprised if there are Oscars awarded for it in February.

The collisions of debris and machine take place in absolute silence. Since sound doesn’t travel in space this is as it should be. It is also completely terrifying. Don’t let the sounds of collisions on the trailer fool you – the studio insisted on them for the trailer but they are absent in the final film. We are often treated to the point of view of Dr. Stone, seeing things through her helmet. We see her breath fogging the helmet glass; see the panic in her eyes and the spinning of her horizon as she hurtles through space in the initial cataclysm. It is breathtaking in its simplicity, devastating in consequence as the audience gradually realizes what these shots mean. The enormity of what these characters face is unstated; it is left to the imagination of the audience to conjure up their own conclusions.

Looking at the emotional aspect, we have to first start with Bullock. This is clearly her movie and she is the avatar of the audience, representing us in the film. She is inexperienced because we are as well; it is far more effective to have her trying to guess and figure out what to do rather than see things through the eyes of Kowalski who is better trained. He is there mainly to offer encouragement to Dr. Stone and a bit of comic relief here and there.

As impressive as the special effects are, this is a very human film. As we see the astronauts struggle to survive and figure out a way against all hope to get back home, we see our own struggle to survive in a world just as inhospitable and unforgiving and cold as that of outer space. We become invested in Dr. Stone and in no small part due to Bullock’s performance. This may well be her crowning achievement as an actress; it’s note-perfect capturing the flaws and frailties of a character who is brilliant but terrified. She is in fact brilliant enough to imagine the negative outcome of what is happening to her. Clooney gets to essentially play himself; wise-cracking and devilishly handsome but entirely competent at what he does.

In a nice little grace note, Cuaron casts Ed Harris to be the voice of Mission Control; Harris also played Flight Director Gene Kranz in Apollo 13. That aside, there isn’t much in terms of in-film references to please the fanboy contingent which I think has stuck in the craw of some of that ilk.

From a scientific standpoint, Cuaron has said that some liberties were taken with science in order to advance the story – one of the most egregious of these is that the journey from the Hubble to the ISS was not possible with the equipment shown in the film simply because of the distance involved. Simply put, if this had happened for real (and some scientists have warned that it potentially could), the chances are that the astronauts would perish right then and there. That would have made for a depressing film and wasn’t the story that Cuaron wanted to tell. Once again, this isn’t about the effects – it’s about the human beings inside them. From that standpoint, it’s a marvelous film. Whatever your feelings about the space program – gigantic boondoggle or absolute necessity – you will be blown away by the special effects but more importantly you will be moved by the human story, a rare achievement. This is one of the best films of the year.

REASONS TO GO: Phenomenal special effects. Tense, edge-of-your-seat throughout. Bravura performance by Bullock.

REASONS TO STAY: One or two nitpicks.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few images that are pretty rough and a bit of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The length of the movie at 90 minutes is exactly the time it takes for the actual International Space Station to make one complete orbit of the Earth.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/10/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 97% positive reviews. Metacritic: 96/100

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Marooned

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: The Tigger Movie

New Releases for the Week of October 4, 2013


Gravity

GRAVITY

(Warner Brothers) Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris (voice). Directed by Alfonso Cuarón

A routine shuttle mission and spacewalk turns into a fight for survival when an unforeseen accident destroys the shuttle. The two surviving astronauts – one a grizzled veteran on his last flight before retiring, the other a brilliant medical engineer on her first space flight – are flung into space, tethered to each other with no communication with Earth and their oxygen running low. Their fate looks grim but there may be a slim chance at survival – but they’ll have to do something completely out of the box in order to take that chance.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D (opens Thursday night)

Genre: Sci-Fi Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language)

Atharintiki Daaredi

(Reliance/My3) Pawan Kalyan, Samantha Ruth Prabhu, Pranitha, Boman Irani. An old billionaire looking to reconcile with his estranged daughter sends his grandson to make overtures. In order to keep from being rejected out of hand, he conceals his identity. While there he falls in love with his cousin, who suffers a head injury – and believes she’s his lover.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Besharam

(Reliance) Ranbir  Kapoor, Pallavi Sharda, Rishi Kapoor, Neetu Singh. A street-savvy auto mechanic who lives as an adult at the orphanage he was raised in. He’s charming, smart and bold and has no real concept of right and wrong. He helps support his orphanage by stealing cars and re-selling them. When his actions inadvertently hurt the one he loves most in the world, he determines to make amends. However, he approaches it in the same way he has always done things which might not necessarily be the best approach.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Grace Unplugged

(Roadside Attractions) AJ Michalka, James Denton, Kevin Pollak, Shawnee Smith. The daughter of a rock star who left the business after being born again has shown prodigious talent of her own as a Christian singer-songwriter. However, she has secretly harbored a dream of Hollywood stardom and once her dad’s former manager gets his mitts onto her it looks like she’ll do just that – but will stardom come at the cost of her faith, perhaps her very soul?

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Faith Drama

Rating: PG (for thematic elements and brief teen drinking) 

Parkland

(Exclusive) Zac Efron, Marcia Gay Harden, Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Giamatti. It was an ordinary day being lived by ordinary people, but for the young doctors and nurses at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963 would be anything but ordinary. In fact, it would be a turning point in their lives although they don’t yet know it – and a turning point in this nation as well.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for bloody scenes of ER trauma procedures, some violent images and language, and smoking throughout)

Pulling Strings

(Pantelion) Laura Ramsay, Aurora Papile, Stockard Channing, Tom Arnold  Walking through Mexico City one night, a beautiful American diplomat is about to be assaulted. She is saved by a young mariachi musician whose visa had been denied that very afternoon – by her.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG (for language and brief smoking)

Runner Runner

(20th Century Fox) Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck, Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie. A college student plays online poker to try and win his college tuition. Just when he thought he had done it, it all came crashing down. Soon he realizes it wasn’t just bad luck – he’d been cheated. Instead of slinking into a corner, he decides to go to Costa Rica and confront the owner of the poker site. Far from being angry, the tycoon offers the ex-student a job – and he accepts. He shouldn’t have; soon he finds himself way over his head in a maelstrom of corruption, sex, money and murder. Getting out will be even more difficult than getting in.

See the trailer, a clip and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content) 

Four-Warned: October 2013


Gravity

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.

FOUR TO SEE
1. GRAVITY (1.0)
2. CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (1.2)
3. THE FIFTH ESTATE (1.3)
4. ESCAPE PLAN (1.5)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. THE SUMMIT (1.2)
2. CBGB (1.3)
3. 12 YEARS A SLAVE (1.4)
4. A.C.O.D. (1.5)
TIE. THE DIRTIES (1.5)
TIE. BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (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.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
Gravity, Runner Runner, Captain Phillips, Machete Kills, Romeo and Juliet, 12 Years a Slave, Escape Plan, The Counselor

2013 Fall/Holiday Preview


2013 Fall/Holiday Preview

With summer coming to an end for another year, life takes a different turn from the carefree days of our warmest months; the beginning of school isn’t far off, the weather turns from warm and sunny to cooler and our attention turns from barbecues and vacations to the preparation for the holidays. Autumn is, no doubt about it, my favorite time of year but I do have to admit that I feel a bit of a pang of loss for Hollywood’s blockbuster season.

Fear not, however because there will be plenty of movies this fall that will keep us from missing those popcorn epics we know and love. Iron Man 3 was a big success particularly overseas where it seemed to strike a chord (although a lot of Marvel fanboys have expressed some displeasure over the film but that is just, as far as I can tell, the inevitable Internet fanboy backlash that comes to every franchise). Also grabbing some big box office numbers was Man of Steel which although less successful with the critics, got big box office number and a good deal of fanboy approval, paving the way for DC to create a shared cinematic universe of their own – a sequel has already been fast tracked and it is said that preparation for a Justice League movie is well under way. Superheroes weren’t the only big winners either as Star Trek Into Darkness did big box office as did Fast and Furious 6 while Monsters University and Despicable Me 2 showed that the family film market is still thriving.

For movie buffs, the fall and holiday films are the Oscar contenders as Hollywood puts out their prestige projects; this year the frontrunners look to be The Wolf of Wall Street from legendary director Martin Scorsese, the highly-praised Inside Llewyn Davis and the big buzz project from George Clooney Monuments Men.

The popcorn epics I referred to earlier will also be in plenty of abundance, as Peter Jackson continues his Tolkien trilogy with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and last year’s blockbuster sequel The Hunger Games: Catching Fire will both doubtlessly will inspire long lines at the box office. Not to be outdone, Ender’s Game should put a lot of butts in seats as a potential franchise film, Anchorman: The Legend Continues is the sequel to one of the great comedies of the 21st century and Tom Clancy’s smart spy Jack Ryan reboots the franchise with Trek veteran Chris Pine in the title role.

Fall is a time for jack o’lanterns and scares, and traditionally horror movies rule the October box office. This year, however, there is surprisingly little in the pipeline for the scare-inclined. At the top of the list is the remake of the Stephen King classic Carrie as well as All the Boys Love Mandy Lane and Insidious Chapter 2 to turn to. There will be plenty of laughs as well, with a new take on the James Thurber classic The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Delivery Man and Last Vegas all hoping for box office gold. This year will see our share of biographies and true stories in the multiplex, with Captain Phillips, Grace of Monaco, The Wolf of Wall Street, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Saving Mr. Banks and Rush out in theaters.

There will be more than a few remakes as The Delivery Man (a remake of this past year’s Starbuck), Oldboy from director Spike Lee putting his spin on the Korean cult classic, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet returning to the big screen along with the aforementioned Carrie and Walter Mitty. There will be plenty of family fare with Frozen, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 and Free Birds waiting in the wings. The glut of science fiction films carries over from the summer as Thor: The Dark World, Gravity, Ender’s Game, Riddick, Homefront and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire will transport us to new worlds. And, as always, plenty of drama with August: Osage County, The Counselor, Dallas Buyers Club and Prisoners.

There’s nothing like a clear winter night sky for star-gazing and 2013 will have plenty of opportunity for that. You’ll be able to see Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), Brad Pitt (12 Years a Slave), Ben Stiller (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty), George Clooney (Monuments Men), Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Will Ferrell (Anchorman: The Legend Continues), Vin Diesel (Riddick), Julia Roberts (August: Osage County), Robert De Niro (The Family), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Matthew McConaughey (The Dallas Buyers Club), Arnold Schwarzenegger (Escape Plan), Michael Fassbender (The Counselor), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), Harrison Ford (Ender’s Game), Vince Vaughn (Delivery Man), Owen Wilson (Free Birds), Jennifer Hudson (Black Nativity), Anthony Hopkins (Thor: The Dark World), Samuel L. Jackson (Oldboy), Vince Vaughn (The Delivery Man), Nicole Kidman (Grace of Monaco), Ben Affleck (Runner Runner), Michael Douglas (Last Vegas), Chris Hemsworth (Rush), Jason Statham (Homefront) and Hugh Jackman (Prisoners). There will also be plenty of stars behind the camera with Peter Jackson, Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, David O. Russell, Ron Howard, Alexander Payne and the Coen Brothers all sitting in the director’s chair this fall.

You can start planning your trips to the multiplex now with this preview of what lies ahead. Further details can be found in our weekly Previews and monthly Four-Warned features, and of course many of the movies that are in this preview today will be one of our daily reviews down the road. There are plenty of great movies to choose from this fall so enough of this blather and let’s get started telling you about them.

SEPTEMBER

As fall is a time for the earth to rest after the summer growing season, so too is September a brief respite between the big summer blockbusters and the Holiday box office monsters. Generally the movies here are not of the quality we’ll see later in the season although once in awhile some pretty good films manage to make their way through. Hopefully one of them will be the third installment in Vin Diesel’s epic science fiction saga, as well as Ron Howard’s tale of a legendary Formula One racing rivalry, Canadian director Denis Villaneuve’s taut kidnapping thriller and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directing debut that was a big hit at Sundance.

Riddick

DEANS LIST

RIDDICK
RELEASE DATE: September 6, 2013
STUDIO: Universal
STARRING: Vin Diesel, Karl Urban, Jordi Molla, Katee Sackhoff, Bokeem Woodbine, Dave Bautista, Matt Nable, Conrad Pla, Raoul Trujillo, Nolan Funk, Keri Hilson
STORY: After falling from his place as Ruler of the Necromancers, Riddick finds himself stranded on a planet more desolate and deadly than he ever has been before. With bounty hunters after his head and the ever-deadly Lord Vaako demanding answers, Riddick will have his hands full getting off this planet alive.
PROSPECTS: More of a return to Pitch Black which made Diesel a star. Doesn’t hurt that he’s riding high after enormous numbers for Fast and Furious 6.
OBSTACLES: The ponderous and pretentious Chronicles of Riddick may leave some wary of the franchise.
FACTOID: Urban is the only returning character other than Riddick from the second film.

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2

RELEASE DATE: September 27, 2013
STUDIO: Sony Animation
STARRING THE VOICES OF: Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Andy Samberg, Neil Patrick Harris, Benjamin Bratt, Terry Crews, Will Forte
STORY: Flint’s machine is still going and now mutating giant food into hybrids of food and animals. Flint and his crew must somehow make their way back to the island and find the machine and turn it off once and for all.
PROSPECTS: Really the only family film coming out during the void between the end of Summer and October so could have a good time as the only game in town.
OBSTACLES: While the first film did decent numbers, it wasn’t an overwhelming hit.
FACTOID: Phil Lord and Chris Miller, directors of the first movie, will be taking an executive producers role without directing.

RUSH
RELEASE DATE: September 20, 2013
STUDIO: Universal
STARRING: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara, Christian McKay, Stephen Mangan, Natalie Dormer
STORY: Formula One racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda develop a fierce rivalry on the track and a fierce respect off of it.
PROSPECTS: Hemsworth is hot and director Ron Howard’s name ought to pull in at least a few folks into the multiplex.
OBSTACLES: This will probably do much better overseas than in the United States where NASCAR is king and Formula One is more or less a footnote.
FACTOID: Howard decided against using archival footage of Lauda’s Nürburgring crash but re-created it where it actually happened.

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

DON JON
RELEASE DATE: September 27, 2013
STUDIO: Relativity
STARRING: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Brie Larson, Glenne Headly, Rob Brown, Jeremy Luc, Italia Ricci
STORY: A handsome ladies man who has no trouble scoring with the ladies finds himself with a porn addiction. When he falls (and is fallen for by) a pretty young woman with old-fashioned values and an unrealistic expectation for romance, the two try and find a way to make things work out.
PROSPECTS: One of the most acclaimed films to come out of Sundance earlier this year. Gordon-Levitt seems poised to move on up to the next level.
OBSTACLES: Not a sure thing that the public sees him as a leading man.
FACTOID: This is Gordon-Levitt’s directing debut.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

SEPTEMBER 6, 2013

POPULAIRE (Weinstein) is opening in limited release and is set in 1958 France. Herein a vivacious young woman, seeing a wife of dull housewifery ahead of her, interviews for a secretarial position in another town and her amazing typing speed gives her new boss the idea of entering her in a speed typing competition. WINNIE MANDELA (Image) chronicles the life of the former first lady of South Africa and a freedom fighter in her own right in this limited release.

SEPTEMBER 13, 2013

In THE FAMILY (Relativity) a mob informant in witness protection whose wife and kids are as criminally inclined (if not more so) than he is gets moved to a small French village where they fit in like a Goth at a Pat Boone concert. Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones star. INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 (FilmDistrict) returns Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne whose supernatural issues from the surprise 2010 hit have not been put behind them after all.

SEPTEMBER 20, 2013

BATTLE OF THE YEAR 3D (Screen Gems) is one of those hip hop dance movies that is pretty much interchangeable with all the others. PRISONERS (Warner Brothers) is the first major studio film from acclaimed French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve and stars Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello, Terrance Howard and Viola Davis as the parents of two missing daughters whose desperation to find them drives them to unspeakable acts. Jake Gyllenhaal also stars as a sympathetic detective. THE WIZARD OF OZ IMAX 3D (MGM) is re-released on the 75th anniversary of its original release in the IMAX forward. Lions and Tigers and Bears…in 3D! Oh My!

SEPTEMBER 27, 2013

BAGGAGE CLAIM (Fox Searchlight) stars Paula Patton as a flight attendant determined to get engaged before her younger sister’s wedding and willing to use her airline connections to find her Mr. Right – in just 30 days. METALLICA THROUGH THE NEVER (Picturehouse) send Dane DeHaan as a roadie for the legendary Metal heroes on a quest while his employers shred in concert. While this opens in limited release this week, it will get a wider release starting October 4 for the resurrected Picturehouse distribution company. THERESE (LD Entertainment) is a new version of the Emile Zola novel Therese Raquin which scandalized Paris in the 19th century. It opens in limited release..

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR
A look back at how last year’s previewed movies did at the box office. The budgets and box office numbers are courtesy of Box Office Mojo. My verdicts are based on the typical studio formula that for a movie to break even it must make twice its production budget; any movie that achieves that will be labeled as profitable. I define hit movies as those that make three times the production budget and blockbusters as anything that makes $200 million in domestic box office or more, or made five times the production budget with a minimum of $100 million in domestic box office. The first four movies listed are the four main previewed items; I’ve also chosen a selection of other major releases that made the preview issue as well.

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA (Columbia) Budget: $85 Million. Domestic Gross: $148.3M Total: $346.9M Verdict: Blockbuster.
RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION (Screen Gems) Budget: $65M. Domestic Gross: $42.3M Total: $240.2M Verdict: Big Hit.
LOOPER (TriStar) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $66.5M Total: $176.5M Verdict: Big Hit.
THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (Summit) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $3.7M Total: $16.9M Verdict: Flop.
TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE (Columbia) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $35.8M Total: $49.0M Verdict: Probably Broke Even.
END OF WATCH (Open Road) Budget: $7M. Domestic Gross: $41.0M Total: $48.1M Verdict: Big Hit.
DREDD (Lionsgate) Budget: $50M. Domestic Gross: $13.4M Total: $35.6M Verdict: Flop.
HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET (Relativity) Budget: $10M. Domestic Gross: $31.6M Total: $39.5M Verdict: Hit.
THE WORDS (CBS) Budget: $6M. Domestic Gross: $11.5M Total: $13.2 Verdict: Made Money.
THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (Summit) Budget: $13M. Domestic Gross: $17.7M Total: $33.4 Verdict: Made Money.
KILLING THEM SOFTLY (Weinstein) Budget: $15M. Domestic Gross: $15.0M Total: $37.9 Verdict: Made Money.

OCTOBER

The leaves are turning now and fall is beginning in earnest. While this year’s installment of the horror film franchise of the hour has been put off until next year that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of things to bring those who like their spines chilled and their senses shaken with a remake of a Stephen King classic and the latest from director Alphonso Cuaron set in outer space. There is also Tom Hanks in a true life thriller, a new installment in a series that began on reality TV and a sequel to a big animated hit.

Captain Phillips

DEANS LIST

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS
RELEASE DATE: October 11, 2013
STUDIO: Columbia
STARRING: Tom Hanks, Catherine Keener, Max Martini, Chris Mulkey, Yul Vazquez, Michael Chernus, Corey Johnson, Angus MacInnes, David Warshofsky
STORY: When the freighter Maersk Alabama is seized by armed pirates, the Captain must take heroic measures to protect his ship and crew, leading to a daring rescue by U.S. Navy Seals that would capture the world’s imagination.
PROSPECTS: Director Paul Greengrass proved his mettle when it came to current event films with United 11. With Hanks leading the way and little competition at the box office, this could do surprising business.
OBSTACLES: Hanks hasn’t had a big hit or Oscar buzz for a few years now, and with a competing film coming out in December his draw might not be what it used to be. Current event films tend to do poorly at the box office unless they’re sports-related.
FACTOID: The MV Maersk Alabama was the first American-flagged cargo ship to be seized by pirates in over 200 years.

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

GRAVITY
RELEASE DATE: October 4, 2013
STUDIO: Warner Brothers
STARRING: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Eric Michels, Basher Savage
STORY: Two astronauts on a routine spacewalk are left stranded when their shuttle is destroyed. Completely cut off from NASA and spinning out into deep space, their oxygen will rapidly deplete unless they can undertake a radical plan to save themselves.
PROSPECTS: Director Alfonso Cuaron is Oscar-nominated and well respected in the genre community. Bullock and Clooney are two of Hollywood’s most appealing stars and the trailer looks absolutely spectacular.
OBSTACLES: With the shuttle program completed and the next generation program years away, interest in NASA may be unusually low.
FACTOID: This is producer David Heyman’s first project since the Harry Potter series concluded. Cuaron directed the third installment, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, of the franchise.

ESCAPE PLAN
RELEASE DATE: October 18, 2013
STUDIO: Summit
STARRING: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Vinnie Jones, Vincent D’Onofrio, Amy Ryan
STORY: An expert on prison security agrees to test the integrity of a brand new high-tech supermax facility. Betrayed and falsely imprisoned, he must team up with an inmate to escape the most escape-proof facility ever built.
PROSPECTS: Stallone and Schwarzenegger co-starring as leads will set action fans to salivating.
OBSTACLES: They are also getting a bit long in the tooth. Prison break films haven’t exactly set the box office on fire as of late.
FACTOID: Filming was interrupted while Stallone grieved for his eldest son Sage who passed away during shooting.

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

THE FIFTH ESTATE
RELEASE DATE: October 18, 2013
STUDIO: DreamWorks
STARRING: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Anthony Mackie, David Thewlis, Alicia Vikander, Peter Capaldi, Carice van Houten, Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney
STORY: Julian Assange and partner Daniel Domscheit-Berg co-found WikiLeaks, a platform for whistleblowers to anonymously post covert data, shedding light on government secrets and corporate crimes. When they gain access to the largest leak of classified U.S. military information in history, they are faced with the ethical question of whether the price of posting information that could cost lives is worth the exposure.
PROSPECTS: Cumberbatch is one of the hottest faces of this summer after his stellar work as the villain in Star Trek Into Darkness. The cast of international stars supporting him is impressive.
OBSTACLES: Assange isn’t really seen as a hero in America.
FACTOID: James McAvoy was originally cast as Domscheit-Berg but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts with his stage play Macbeth. Bruhl was cast in his place.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

OCTOBER 4, 2013

RUNNER RUNNER (20th Century Fox) stars Justin Timberlake as a grad student who gets burned in an online poker game. Believing he got ripped off, he goes to set things right – and winds up even deeper in a world more corrupt than he could have imagined. Ben Affleck also stars.. A TOUCH OF SIN (Kino Lorber) examines the effects the economic boom in China has had on four individual lives from various places and economic stations in that country. This is likely opening in limited release and yes, this is based on actual incidents. A.C.O.D. (The Film Arcade) stands for Adult Children of Divorce and stars Adam Scott, trying to get his bickering divorced parents to co-exist for one night at his little brother’s wedding, with unexpected results. This played Sundance earlier this year as part of the Sundance Across America program and was reviewed here.

OCTOBER 11, 2013

In MACHETE KILLS (Open Road) the ex-Federale is recruited by the President himself to stop a billionaire arms dealer and a revolutionary from hatching a mad plot to start World War III. Danny Trejo returns to the role. ROMEO & JULIET (Relativity) is a reimagining of the classic Shakespeare tragedy re-set in the modern era. Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth play the star-crossed couple. ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE (Radius) has taken a long and circuitous route but is finally getting a theatrical release after years of sitting on the shelf and passing from distributor to distributor. At a party on a secluded ranch a number of the revelers begin to disappear one by one and the guest of honor, a “good girl” who has become the object of obsession for a number of high school boys, might be involved. As you might guess, this is opening in limited release.

OCTOBER 18, 2013

CARRIE (Screen Gems) has cast Chloe Grace Moretz in the title role of the classic Steven King horror film. A young teenager, sheltered by an overbearing and religious nutjob of a mother, begins to develop psychic powers even as she becomes the object of scorn and torture at her school. You just know it isn’t going to end well for anyone. 12 YEARS A SLAVE (Fox Searchlight) is based on a true story as a free black man in pre-Civil War New York is abducted and sold as a slave. The incredible cast includes Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender and Chiwetel Ejiofor and is directed by Steve McQueen, one of the best young filmmakers in the world. Sadly, it’s opening in limited release but hopefully it will make it to Orlando. HAUNTER (IFC Midnight) is also opening in limited release and is a haunted house thriller in which Abigail Breslin must unravel a mystery dating back well before she was born if she is to save her family.

OCTOBER 25, 2013

THE COUNSELOR (20th Century Fox) stars Michael Fassbender as a young lawyer who gets involved in an illegal business deal which turns his life sideways quickly. Ridley Scott directs this adaptation of a Cormac McCarthy screenplay. JACKASS PRESENTS: BAD GRANDPA (Paramount) brings back the entire gang for a road trip in which Johnny Knoxville’s character Irving Zisman introduces his naive grandson to a wide variety of real people. Opening in limited release, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (Sundance Selects) was one of the most talked-about films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, receiving an NC-17 rating for its eroticism as it depicts a 15-year-old French schoolgirl discovering love and sex with a free-spirited young woman.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR
CLOUD ATLAS (Warner Brothers) Budget: $102M. Domestic Gross: $27.1M Total: $130.5M Verdict: Lost Money.
ARGO (Warner Brothers) Budget: $44.5M. Domestic Gross: $136.98M Total: $232.3M Verdict: Big Hit.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (Paramount) Budget: $5M. Domestic Gross: $53.9M Total: $140.8M Verdict: Big Hit.
THE PAPERBOY (Millennium) Budget: $2.5M. Domestic Gross: $693,286 Total: $1.4M Verdict: Flop.
TAKEN 2 (20th Century Fox) Budget: $45M. Domestic Gross: $139.9M Total: $376.1 Verdict: Blockbuster.
FRANKENWEENIE (Disney) Budget: $39M. Domestic Gross: $35.3M Total: $67.1 Verdict: Lost Money.
ALEX CROSS (Summit) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $25.9M Total: $30.4M Verdict: Flop.
HERE COMES THE BOOM (Columbia) Budget: $42M. Domestic Gross: $45.3M Total: $73.1M Verdict: Lost Money.
SINISTER (Summit) Budget: $3M. Domestic Gross: $48.1M Total: $77.7M Verdict: Blockbuster.
SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (CBS) Budget: $15M. Domestic Gross: $15.0M Total: $19.4M Verdict: Lost Money.
PITCH PERFECT (Universal) Budget: $17M. Domestic Gross: $65.0M Total: $113.0M Verdict: Major Big Hit.

NOVEMBER

November is when things really start to get interesting. Fall’s biggest blockbusters normally start making appearances now as well as some Oscar front-runners. Marvel is bringing their box office magic this month, and Martin Scorsese prepares another Oscar contender. Disney has a brand new animated feature and the newest franchise fluttering the hearts of pre-teen girls delivers its second installment.

Enders Game

DEANS LIST

ENDER’S GAME
RELEASE DATE: November 1, 2013
STUDIO: Summit Entertainment
STARRING: Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Viola Davis, Moises Arias, Brandon Soo Hoo
STORY: After barely surviving an alien attack, the forces of Earth prepare for the next one by preparing young people at Battle School, training them in strategy and tactics. One student will rise above and become mankind’s only hope to win the coming impossible battle.
PROSPECTS: The Ender novels are extremely popular and the good young cast (along with some outstanding adult cast members) will certainly make a case for this to become a new franchise for Summit if it does well.
OBSTACLES: Author Orson Scott Card’s political views, particularly towards gay marriage and President Obama, have offended some who may boycott the film because of it.
FACTOID: The Battle Room sequences used a special wheel harness that allowed the actors a much more free range of motion than traditional harnesses.

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

THOR: THE DARK WORLD
RELEASE DATE: November 8 2013
STUDIO: Disney/Marvel
STARRING: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Kat Dennings, Zachary Levi, Ray Stevenson
STORY: A shadowy foe that predates the Universe and the vengeful Malekith seek to topple Asgard and with it the Nine Realms. Not even the might of Odin can withstand them; only Thor, reunited with Jane Foster, might have a chance of victory but it will cost him everything.
PROSPECTS: Marvel is showing no signs of slowing down. This is said to be setting the stage for the Outer Space venue that will be the setting for Avengers: The Age of Ultron in 2015.
OBSTACLES: Sooner or later fans may well tire of the Marvel cinematic universe like they did of the Star Trek universe. Overexposure with two movie and a TV series this year are a very real concern.
FACTOID: Josh Dallas, who played Fandral in Thor, was unable to reprise his role here because of his commitment to his TV show Once Upon a Time. He was replaced by Zachary Levi who was originally the first choice for the role but was unable to take it – because of his commitment to his TV show Chuck.

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE
RELEASE DATE: November 22, 2013
STUDIO: Lionsgate
STARRING: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Stanley Tucci
STORY: Katniss and Peeta embark on a tour of Panem as a requirement of their victory in the Hunger Games. However her inspiring victory is brewing up a rebellion, one which the ruthless President will crush by any means necessary – including killing Katniss and everyone she holds dear.
PROSPECTS: This really resonated with the pre-teen and teen girls, many of whom were Twihards as well – but also appealed to their boyfriends and brothers. This might well be the big franchise Lionsgate has been looking for.
OBSTACLES: The Hunger Games was released early in the year with little competition; that won’t be the case here.
FACTOID: Gary Ross, who directed the first movie, declined to return for the second although he had been invited to.

FROZEN
RELEASE DATE: November 27, 2013
STUDIO: Disney
STARRING THE VOICES OF: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk, Chris Williams
STORY: An optimistic young woman whose sister is the Snow Queen, undertakes a perilous journey with eccentric friends to put an end to the perpetual winter the kingdom has been stuck in.
PROSPECTS: Disney has deliberately kept this movie largely under wraps; the only footage we’ve seen yet is a Looney Tunes-esque clip that has served as a trailer. If the movie holds to that, it might be one of the best movies they’ve turned out in years.
OBSTACLES: The plot is a little Narnia-esque with a bit of Wicked mixed in for good measure. There will be some family film competition this month as well.
FACTOID: Loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale The Snow Queen.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
RELEASE DATE: November 15, 2013
STUDIO: Paramount
STARRING: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill, Jon Favreau, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jean Dujardin
STORY: The rise and fall of a cutthroat Wall Street tycoon (based on the memoirs of Jordan Belfort) whose party hard lifestyle symbolized the excesses and outrages of Wall Street.
PROSPECTS: Every Martin Scorsese movie has at least something worthwhile to see; chances are this will be yet another Oscar contender for the director.
OBSTACLES: Movies set in the financial sector have fallen into disfavor as of late.
FACTOID: This is the fifth collaboration between Scorsese and DiCaprio.

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

OLDBOY
RELEASE DATE: November 27, 2013
STUDIO: FilmDistrict
STARRING: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson, James Ransone, Michael Imperioli, Rami Malek, Max Casella, Hannah Ware
STORY: A man is inexplicably kidnapped and held captive for 20 years, then just as inexplicably released. He is given three days to discover who kidnapped him and why, only to discover that he is still trapped – by his past.
PROSPECTS: Based on one of the best movies of the past five years, director Spike Lee might just be the perfect fit to sit behind the camera for this one.
OBSTACLES: The original Korean movie was extremely violent and sexual, with some of the plot elements perhaps too rough for mainstream audiences.
FACTOID: Among those who turned down roles were Daniel Craig, Will Smith, Rooney Mara, Clive Owen, Colin Firth, Christian Bale and Mia Wasikowska.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

NOVEMBER 1, 2013

FREE BIRDS (Relativity) is an animated feature in which the turkey pardoned by the President is sent on a mission back in time to the first Thanksgiving to take turkey off the menu. Who’s got the cranberry sauce?. In LAST VEGAS (CBS), four old friends (and I do mean old) head off to Sin City for one last fling to celebrate the impending marriage of one of their number. Robert De Niro, Kevin Kline, Michael Douglas and Morgan Freeman star. DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (Focus) opens in limited release and stars Matthew McConaughey as a hard-living Texas cowboy diagnosed with AIDS in 1985 and given 30 days to live. Finding no solutions in traditional medicine, he seeks out alternative medicines both legal and otherwise from around the world and distributes them to himself and others in the same pickle. Based on a true story.

NOVEMBER 8, 2013

ABOUT TIME (Universal) is the latest from British rom-com king Richard Curtis (Love, Actually). This one’s about a young man who discovers he can travel in time and put right all of his romantic mistakes, but changing the future can be a dangerous thing..

NOVEMBER 15, 2013

THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY (Universal) reunites the cast of 1999 urban comedy for a magical Holiday weekend in New York in which secrets will be revealed and their lives changed forever. THE BOOK THIEF (20th Century Fox), based on a best-selling book, is the story of a brave young girl who goes to live with a new family in Nazi Germany and discovers courage – as well as instills it in others – through the power of literature. THE NECESSARY DEATH OF CHARLIE COUNTRYMAN (Millennium) opens in limited release and stars Shia LaBeouf in the title role as a young man who falls in love with the girlfriend of an insanely violent (and jealous) crime boss which we really don’t recommend you do either.

NOVEMBER 22, 2013

DELIVERY MAN (DreamWorks) stars Vince Vaughn as a genial slacker who discovers that through an error at a fertility clinic his donated sperm has fathered over 500 children. NEBRASKA (Paramount) comes from acclaimed director Alexander Payne and stars Bruce Dern as a cantankerous old man who believes he’s won a million dollar sweepstakes and takes a road trip wit his son to collect the prize.

NOVEMBER 27, 2013

BLACK NATIVITY (Fox Searchlight) is an adaptation of a Langston Hughes play about a streetwise Baltimore teen who is forced to spend the Christmas holidays in New York with his strict and devout relatives. When he rebels against their rules, he determines to make the trip back home to his mom, no matter what the odds. HOMEFONT (Open Road) stars Jason Statham as an ex-DEA agent who retires to a small town for the sake of his ten year old daughter. Unfortunately, he picked the wrong town. Sylvester Stallone wrote this. GRACE OF MONACO (Weinstein) chronicles the life of the late actress-turned-royalty with Nicole Kidman in the title role. Opens in limited release.

NOVEMBER 29, 2013

MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM (Weinstein) stars Idris Elba in this biography of the great South African leader, activist and liberator.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 2 (Summit) Budget: $120M. Domestic Gross: $292.3Total: $829.7M Verdict: Blockbuster.
SKYFALL (MGM/Columbia) Budget: $200M. Domestic Gross: $304.4M Total: $1.109B. Verdict: Blockbuster.
FLIGHT (Paramount) Budget: $31M. Domestic Gross: $93.7M Total: $161.7M Verdict: Big Hit.
JACK AND DIANE (Relativity) N/A. Domestic Gross: $1,142 Total: $1,142. Verdict: Flop.
LINCOLN (DreamWorks) Budget: $65M. Domestic Gross: $182.2M Total: $275.3M Verdict: Big Hit.
LIFE OF PI (20th Century Fox) Budget: $120M. Domestic Gross: $125.06M Total: $609.0M Verdict: Blockbuster.
RISE OF THE GUARDIANS (DreamWorks) Budget: $145M. Domestic Gross: $103.4M. Total: $303.7M Verdict: Broke Even.
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (Weinstein) Budget: $21M. Domestic Gross: $132.1M Total: $236.4M Verdict: Blockbuster.
WRECK-IT RALPH (Disney) Budget: $165M Domestic Gross: $189.4M Total: $471.2M Verdict: Made Money.
RED DAWN (FilmDistrict) Budget: $65M Domestic Gross: $44.8M Total: $44.8M Verdict: Flop.
THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (Universal) Budget: $15M Domestic Gross: $15.6M Total: $19.7M Verdict: Lost Money.
A LATE QUARTET (EOne) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $1.6M Total: $1.6M Verdict: May have made money.

DECEMBER

The twelfth month is a frenzy of foul weather, Christmas shopping, Oscar wannabes and blockbuster hopefuls as the year comes to an end. This year, we’ll be seeing the middle installment of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, a long-awaited sequel to a very funny film, a reboot of a popular realistic espionage series, and George Clooney’s latest directorial effort set during the Second World War.

Anchorman The Legend Continues

DEANS LIST

ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND CONTINUES
RELEASE DATE: December 20, 2013
STUDIO: Paramount
STARRING: Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Christina Applegate, Kristen Wiig, James Marsden, Harrison Ford, Vince Vaughn, Luke Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Greg Kinnear
STORY: Legendary anchorman Ron Burgundy and his news team are enticed out of retirement at the prospect of joining the country’s very first 24-hour news channel but it doesn’t turn out quite the way they expected
PROSPECTS: Holy mother of God, Burgundy’s back! Many consider this one of the funniest movies ever made and certainly it is still quoted regularly by fanboys to this day. Has only grown in stature since the original aired a decade ago.
OBSTACLES: It’s been more than a decade and one wonders if it still has the cred it used to have.
FACTOID: Ferrell, in character, announced the movie on the Conan O’Brien show.

GRADUATED WITH HONORS

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG
RELEASE DATE: December 13, 2013
STUDIO: New Line
STARRING: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Evans, Lee Pace
STORY: The epic quest to reclaim the Dwarven Kingdom of Erebor continues as the party of 13 crosses the desolation of Smaug and comes face-to-face with the mighty dragon himself.
PROSPECTS: The huge Tolkein fanbase and those who have loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy will continue to show up in huge numbers.
OBSTACLES: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey didn’t generate the kind of excitement that the previous trilogy did.
FACTOID: Due to the dearth of female characters in the source novel, screenwriter Philippa Boyens created the character of Tauriel to inject some redheaded feminine energy into the film.

JACK RYAN
RELEASE DATE: December 25, 2013
STUDIO: Paramount
STARRING: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh, Colm Feore, David Paymer, Gemma Chan, Nonso Anozie
STORY: A young CIA analyst races against time to foil a plot that would destabilize the economy of the nation.
PROSPECTS: Ryan has done big box office in four films with three different actors playing him and there’s no reason to believe that won’t continue.
OBSTACLES: Given recent events, there’s not a lot of love for the covert departments of the government and that might translate to smaller audiences.
FACTOID: This is the first Jack Ryan movie to contain an original plot not from one of the novels.

SAVING MR. BANKS
RELEASE DATE: December 13, 2013 (limited; opens in wide release December 20)
STUDIO: Disney
STARRING: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, Kathy Baker, B.J. Novak
STORY: The classic family film Mary Poppins almost didn’t get made; author P.L. Travers was extremely reluctant to sign the rights to a Hollywood studio that she felt would maul the spirit of her book. This is how Walt Disney convinced her otherwise.
PROSPECTS: Truly a fascinating story, the moving tale might well be an Oscar contender. Certainly those who love Poppins will be eager to see it.
OBSTACLES: May fall in heavy competition both for the box office and for Oscar attention.
FACTOID: The first Disney film to have Walt Disney as a main character.

ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
RELEASE DATE: December 6, 2013 (limited; opens in expanded release December 20)
STUDIO: CBS
STARRING: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham, Justin Timberlake, Ethan Phillips, Max Casella
STORY: An aspiring folk singer, preternaturally attached to his cat, tries to survive in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the 1960s.
PROSPECTS: Hey, it’s a Coen Brothers film! They carry their own little niche and this could well be the first film from that struggling studio to be a serious Oscar contender.
OBSTACLES: Hey, it’s a Coen Brothers film! They never make a ton of money at the box office.
FACTOID: Loosely based on the life of the late Dave van Ronk.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

DECEMBER 6, 2013

In OUT OF THE FURNACE (Relativity), a blue collar worker caring for his dying father watches helplessly as his brother, just home from Iraq, gets involved in a ruthless crime ring. When his brother vanishes and the police seem ill-disposed to find him, he takes matters into his own hands. Christian Bale stars.

DECEMBER 13, 2013

TYLER PERRY’S A MADEA CHRISTMAS (Lionsgate) is America’s most irascible grandmother’s first holiday movie. Ho ho ho, y’all.

DECEMBER 18, 2013

THE MONUMENTS MEN (Columbia) is directed by and stars George Clooney, leading an all-star cast (including Matt Damon, Bill Murray and Cate Blanchett) depicting the true story of a small group of experts during the War who attempted to prevent the Nazis (and the Allies) from destroying priceless art and architecture.

DECEMBER 20, 2013

WALKING WITH DINOSAURS: THE MOVIE (20th Century Fox) brings the world of the dinosaurs to life through computer animation and live photography. Should be a big hit with the kids. FOXCATCHER (Sony Classics) is the true story of John DuPont, the eccentric heir to a chemical fortune whose obsession with Olympic wresting would lead to murder. Opens in limited release.

DECEMBER 25, 2013

47 RONIN (Universal) stars Keanu Reeves as a masterless samurai who is betrayed along with 46 others by a ruthless warlord. Driven from their homes and hunted down, they must unite to make a stand against a powerful and merciless foe. AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (Weinstein) boasts an all-star cast and is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play. In it, a group of strong-willed sisters whose lives have diverged in different directions return to the home they grew up in and the dysfunctional woman who raised them. GRUDGE MATCH (Warner Brothers) features Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro as two retired boxers who decide to get back into the ring and settle their rivalry – 50 year after they got out of it. THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (20th Century Fox), based on the beloved James Thurber short story which was in turn made into a beloved film starring Danny Kaye. How beloved this will be remains to be seen but it will be Ben Stiller playing the title role of the perpetual dreamer Walter Mitty..

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (New Line) Budget: $200M. Domestic Gross: $303.0M Total: $1.017B Verdict: Blockbuster.
ZERO DARK THIRTY (Columbia) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $95.7M Total: $108.7M Verdict: Made Money.
THIS IS 40 (Universal) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $67.5M Total: $88.1M Verdict: Made Money.
LES MISERABLES (Universal) Budget: $61M. Domestic Gross: $148.8M Total: $441.8M Verdict: Blockbuster.
DJANGO UNCHAINED (Weinstein) Budget: $100M. Domestic Gross: $162.8M Total: $425.0M Verdict: Big Hit.
JACK REACHER (Paramount) Budget: $60M. Domestic Gross: $80.1M Total: $216.6M Verdict: Hit.
THE GUILT TRIP (Paramount) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $37.1M Total: $41.0M Verdict: Lost Money.
AMOUR (Sony Classics) Budget: $8.9M. Domestic Gross: $6.7M Total: $19.8 Verdict: Made Money.
PARENTAL GUIDANCE (20th Century Fox) Budget: $25M. Domestic Gross: $77.3M Total: $119.8M Verdict: Big Hit.
PLAYING FOR KEEPS (FilmDistrict) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $13.1M Total: $13.1M Verdict: Flop.
THE IMPOSSIBLE (Summit) Budget: $45M. Domestic Gross: $19.0M Total: $172.4M Verdict: International Hit.
PROMISED LAND (Focus) Budget: $15M. Domestic Gross: $7.6M Total: $8.1M Verdict: Flop.

Thus ends this year’s Fall and Holiday preview. Maybe a few of these whetted your appetite for popcorn and darkness; maybe more than a few. Theater owners can only hope. Remember; release dates are always subject to change, particularly the farther out you go so be sure and check your local listings before heading out to the theater. Readers in New York and Los Angeles, please note that there are several major December releases which will be opening wide in January following their Oscar qualifying run in your cities; those will be previewed in our 2014 preview issue. Speaking of the 2014 preview, our 2013 preview work is done and the annual look ahead at next year is due out at the end of December. There are some interesting projects on the horizon, including no less than six movies from Marvel including their first feature-length animated feature, a return of the Transformers, Sin City, 300, the Hobbit, the Expendables and the Hunger Games and reboots of Frankenstein, Dracula and Godzilla. However, 2014 may well be only a prelude to a blockbuster 2015 which promises the second Avengers film, the first film in the brand new Star Wars trilogy, sequels to Independence Day, The Terminator and Pirates of the Caribbean as well as a new James Bond film and a Superman/Batman team-up. Reason enough to be optimistic about coming attractions. See you at the multiplex!