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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Philomena


Judi Dench tries to break Steve Coogan's delusion gently that he would have made a great James Bond.

Judi Dench tries to break Steve Coogan’s delusion gently that he would have made a great James Bond.

(2013) True Life Drama (Weinstein) Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Mare WInningham, Barbara Jefford, Ruth McCabe, Sean Mahon, Peter Hermann, Anna Maxwell Martin, Michelle Fairley, Wummi Mosaku, Amy McAllister, Charlie Murphy, Cathy Belton, Kate Fleetwood, Charissa Shearer, Nika McGuigan. Directed by Stephen Frears

A mother’s love cannot be broken. Not even separation can diminish it – tear a mother and a child away from each other and she’ll move heaven and earth to find her baby. While any woman can have a baby, not every woman is cut out to be a mother. Some however are not given the choice.

Martin Sixsmith (Coogan) is at a crossroads, trying to re-assess and reinvent his life. Sacked as the communications director for the Labour Government’s Minister of Transport, Local Governments and Regions, he is unsure whether he is going to write a book about Russian history or take up running.

At a party he meets a waitress named Jane (Martin) who overhears a conversation between Martin and editor Sally Mitchell (Fairley) about human interest stories. She figures she has a whopper but Martin politely declines. He doesn’t do human interest stories. However, as he comes to realize that he really has no other prospects and Mitchell is willing to publish, he decides to take it on.

Jane’s mother, Philomena Lee (Dench) as a young woman (Clark) had a baby out of wedlock. In 1950s Ireland, this was a major no-no. Her shamed family sent her to a convent where she had the baby (which was born in the breech position) without painkillers of any kind as penance for her sin. But did her penance end there? No. At three years old her son Anthony along with Mary, the daughter of her friend Kathleen (Murphy) are taken away and given up for adoption by the church to a wealthy American family. Anthony and Mary are driven away, Philomena screaming and sobbing behind them.

Over the course of the rest of her life she kept quiet about the incident. A devout Catholic, she was sure that this was nothing less than she deserved for breaking the laws of God. It wasn’t until nearly 50 years had passed that she confessed to her daughter Jane, who didn’t know before that moment that she had a brother.

Martin and Philomena go to the convent where she had given up her Anthony years before and found it a different place entirely. Sister Claire (Belton) is understanding but can offer no help – apparently the records of adoptions had been destroyed in a fire years before. It appears that Philomena’s quest has ended before it has begun, but while having a beer in the local pub Martin discovers that the records may have been burned intentionally and that most of the babies that had been given up for adoption by the convent had gone to America.

As it turns out, Martin had been a BBC correspondent once upon a time in the United States. With his contacts, there’s a good chance they might be able to find records on that side of the Atlantic. Philomena accompanies Martin across the pond and finds the whole experience delightful; business class, a posh hotel, breakfast buffets – all are new and wonderful to her. However, what they discover in America will turn things on their ear and change the very nature of Philomena’s quest.

Frears is one of the best directors working out there and he’s delivered another gem. Dench is a treasure in the title role. Philomena isn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier but what she lacks in book smarts she makes up for in wisdom and compassion. When Philomena describes the plot of a romance novel to Martin while in an airport, it is absolutely delightful, punctuated by “I didn’t see that one coming!” She also praises at least a dozen hotel workers as “one in a million.” Dench gives Philomena a certain amount of gravitas but not so much that the character becomes caricature. Instead, Philomena is chatty and a bit batty but at every moment we’re aware she’s on serious business and that her heart is just aching. Dench has a good shot at an Oscar nomination although Sandra Bullock may have a lock on the statue this February.

Coogan, best known for his comic turns, has been trying to take on some serious roles of late and this one is tailor made for his talents. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s also the co-writer and producer of the film but certainly he also makes Martin a study in contradictions – he has a sense of humor that he uses sometimes inappropriately and his people skills are a bit raw, particularly in that Martin can be condescending in places. However, he is also doggedly determined to see this thing through and is fiercely protective of Philomena by the movie’s end. He and Dench make a formidable pair.

In fact, it is their differences that make this movie so compelling. Martin is an atheist, Philomena a devout believer. Martin is angry, Philomena forgiving. There is a scene near the end of the film when Martin confronts Sister Hildegarde (Jefford), a nun who was in the convent at the time Anthony was given away. Martin’s anger boils over; Sister Hildegarde is unrepentant and essentially says that Philomena and the other girls like her deserved what they got for the premarital sexuality. It is Philomena who turns out to be the most Christ-like, forgiving Sister Hildegarde and the convent for their misdeeds. When Martin turns to her in amazement and says it’s easy to forgive, Philomena snaps that it isn’t easy at all. It’s bloody hard. But she does it because it is what Christ would want her to do. In her mind, she is remaining true to her faith – even if the church itself has not. It’s a powerful moment.

This is one that might get by even film buffs. With all the big Holiday blockbusters and Oscar contenders coming out, this might slip below your radar. Don’t let it. This is an amazing film that hits all the right notes. Even though occasionally it does twist the knife a little bit, it still manages to cover a difficult and painful subject compassionately, perhaps more so than I, a Catholic, would have in the same situation.

REASONS TO GO: Marvelous performances by Coogan and especially Dench. Gripping story.

REASONS TO STAY: Occasionally manipulative.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some fairly strong language at times, mature thematic material and some sexual situations and dialogue.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Home movies are used as a flashback device throughout the film. While some of these were created specifically for the movie, some are actual home movies of the real Philomena Lee’s son.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/3/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Magdalene Sisters

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT: In Darkness

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: November 2013


Thor: The Dark World

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. THOR: THE DARK WORLD (1.0)
2. ENDER’S GAME (1.3)
TIE. THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (1.3)
4. ABOUT TIME (1.4)
TIE. OLDBOY (1.4)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. COUSIN JULES (1.0)
2. BEST MAN DOWN (1.3)
3. MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM (1.4)
4. PHILOMENA (1.5)

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

NOVEMBER 1, 2013

ABOUT TIME (Universal) Genre: Romantic Fantasy. A young man discovers that he has the ability to move through time, complicating his life enormously. Release Strategy: Limited (opens wide November 8). RATING: 1.4 From Richard Curtis whose Love, Actually remains one of my favorite romantic comedies of all time.
AFTERMATH (Menemsha) Genre: Drama. A pair of brothers discovers that their father had a role in the systematic elimination of Jews during World War II in the Polish village they grew up in. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles November 8). RATING: 1.7 Looks gripping; will be playing the Jewish Film Festival here in Orlando in mid-November.
ANGELS SING (Lionsgate) Genre: Holiday Drama. A man whose Christmas spirit was wiped out by a childhood tragedy must find a way to rekindle it for the sake of his young son. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Looks a little schmaltzy but any cast that includes Harry Connick Jr., Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett and Kris Kristofferson is bound to have a great soundtrack.
BIG SUR (Ketchup) Genre: Drama. Jack Kerouac tries to deal with the success of his novel On the Road by retreating to his cabin in the woods near Monterrey. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 There has been a good deal of interest in Kerouac and the Beats of late.
THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN (Tribeca) Genre: Drama. Love at first sight, propelled by bluegrass music and caught from the breathless beginning to the bitter end. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Looks like it could have been shot in the South but is actually a Dutch film.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (Focus) Genre: True Life Drama. A hard-partying cowboy in the mid-80s discovers he has AIDS and has 30 days to live; rather than give in he imports tracks down alternative medicines, bringing them into America for others who can’t get access to them. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (opens wide November 22). RATING: 2.1 May well turn out to be the crowning performance in Matthew McConaughey’s career and an almost certain Oscar nomination.
DIANA (eOne) Genre: Biographical Drama. The last two years of the brilliant life of the world’s most famous woman culminates in a secret love affair. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Naomi Watts is a very good choice for a role that is sure to be a difficult one to play.
ENDER’S GAME (Summit) Genre: Science Fiction. The fate of the human race rests in the hands of a brilliant young boy as Earth prepares for the final assault of a malevolent alien race. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.3 While I’m not a big fan of his beliefs, I do admire the Orson Scott Card book on which this is based.
FREE BIRDS (Relativity) Genre: Animated Feature. A somewhat delusional turkey recruits the turkey that received the presidential Thanksgiving pardon to travel back in time to the first Thanksgiving to make sure turkey is off the menu. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 3.4 The trailer was stunningly unfunny.
LAST LOVE (RLJ/Image) Genre: Drama. When an aged world-weary widower and a free-spirited dance instructor meet in Paris, they learn the quality of salvation that good friends and family can provide. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 I actually thought the trailer looked pretty good, and you really can’t go wrong with Michael Caine now can you?
LAST VEGAS (CBS) Genre: Comedy. Four childhood friends now long-in-the-tooth head to Sin City to celebrate the last bachelor in the bunch’s impending nuptials. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.9 When you say Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline are in the cast, I’m listening.
MAN OF TAI CHI (Radius) Genre: Martial Arts. The superior skills of a young martial artist in modern Beijing lead him to the underground fight circuit where he will need all those skills and an inextinguishable will to survive. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Keanu Reeves’ directorial debut has him playing the Merovingian in someone else’s saga.
MR. NOBODY (Magnolia) Genre: Sci-Fi Drama. Standing on a train station platform, a young boy must make a decision that will affect the rest of his life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Something of a Sliding Doors conceit but it looks very effective here.
THE PERVERT’S GUIDE TO IDEOLOGY (Zeitgeist) Genre: Documentary. Cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek examines the role of movies on modern culture. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.6 Looks funny in places but could be kind of long-winded and condescending.
SAL (Tribeca) Genre: Biographical Drama. These are the last few days of actor Sal Mineo’s life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 James Franco directed this two years ago and it’s kind of been out there languishing waiting for a distributor but at last it’s going to make it into theaters and this looks like it could be worth the wait.

NOVEMBER 6, 2013

A CASE OF YOU (IFC) Genre: Romantic Comedy. When a young man embellishes his online profile to woo a beautiful barista he’s sweet on, he finds it hard to live up to his own online alter ego. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 OK, I’ll admit that the trailer charmed the heck out of me; but it does have Peter Dinklage and Justin Long in the cast so that’s hopeful.

NOVEMBER 8, 2013

THE ARMSTRONG LIE (Sony Classics) Genre: Documentary. The amazing rise and precipitous fall of one of the 20th century’s most controversial sports heroes. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.4 Oscar-winning documentary director Alex Gibney gets the most candid interview with Lance Armstrong yet.
ASS BACKWARDS (Gravitas) Genre: Comedy. Two delusional women whose lives were changed when they finished dead last in a beauty pageant are invited back to their hometown for a reunion which they hope means redemption. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 A reasonably funny trailer but I’m still not sold on the concept.
BEST MAN DOWN (Magnolia) Genre: Dramedy. A newlywed couple must cancel their honeymoon to arrange the funeral for the best man who died unexpectedly, in the process discovering that there was more to their friend than they realized. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.3 I actually found the trailer to be affecting enough so that I can’t wait to see this.
THE BOOK THIEF (20th Century Fox) Genre: Drama. A young girl, sent to live with a new family in Nazi Germany, transforms the lives of all those around her. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Based on the beloved novel, could be maudlin or could be moving – not sure which yet.
GO FOR SISTERS (Variance) Genre: Drama. Two best of friends end up as criminal and parole officer 20 years later but need to unite to save the son of one of them. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles November 15). RATING: 1.7 The latest from the great John Sayles and any of his films are worth seeking out.
GREAT EXPECTATIONS (Main Street) Genre: Drama. The latest film version of the classic Charles Dickens tale. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.1 Acclaimed British director Mike Newell leads a strong cast.
HOW I LIVE NOW (Magnolia) Genre: Sci-Fi Romantic Thriller. After an American teen goes to rural England to stay with relatives, she is forced into a ruthless fight to survive after Europe descends into chaos and war. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Saoirse Ronan stars and Oscar winner Kevin Macdonald directs, a winning combination.
IT’S ME, IT’S ME (Pictures Dept.) Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy. When a young Japanese slacker takes part in a cell phone scam, the unexpected fall-out is that everyone starts to turn into him – and they start to eliminate each other by any means necessary. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.8 Novel concept; looks ripe for an American remake of it down the line.
THE MOTEL LIFE (Self-Released) Genre: Thriller. Two brothers who essentially raised themselves must at last face reality when one of them is involved in a fatal accident. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 The trailer looked extremely imaginative.
PARIS COUNTDOWN (Screen Media) Genre: Thriller. A pair of best friends who were coerced by police to testify against a psychopathic drug dealer find themselves alone and vulnerable when he is released from prison. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 It’s not a Luc Besson film but it surely could have been.
REACHING FORTHE MOON (Wolfe) Genre: Romance. American poet Elizabeth Bishop goes to Rio to visit a college friend and falls in love with her partner, initiating a tumultuous relationship that spans decades, distance, political upheaval and alcohol abuse. Release Strategy: New York City (Opening in Los Angeles November 29). RATING: 2.5 Miranda Otto gives a terrific performance in a movie that seems to channel the spirit of Out of Africa.
THOR: THE DARK WORLD (Disney/Marvel) Genre: Superhero. The God of Thunder must take on a threat to Asgard that could wipe out life on every other plane as well. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.0 And Marvel just keeps rolling on; every movie brings out the greatest anticipation not just in this critic but in the movie-going public at-large.

NOVEMBER 13, 2013

ILYA AND EMELIA KABAKOV: ENTER HERE (Self-Released) Genre: Documentary. After a life of deprivation and repression, Ilya became the first living Russian artist to have an exhibition at the Hermitage. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Is it about the effect of modern art on a nation, or the effect of a nation on the modern artist?

NOVEMBER 14, 2013

THE STARVING GAMES (Ketchup) Genre: Spoof. Recent sci-fi and fantasy films are parodied. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.9 In general these types of films have done absolutely nothing for me and I won’t bother with them.

NOVEMBER 15, 2013

12-12-12 (Weinstein) Genre: Concert Documentary. A behind-the-scenes look at the concert to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.7 Some of the concert footage could be pretty nifty but behind-the-scenes looks tend to bore me.
THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY (Universal) Genre: Comedy. The college friends of The Best Man reunite for a holiday weekend in New York which reignites old rivalries – and old romances. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.1 I have to say the trailer looked a bit cliché to me.
CHARLIE COUNTRYMAN (Millennium) Genre: Action. Acting on the advice of the apparition of his dead mother, the title character flies to Romania to get involved in the hallucinatory Romanian underworld, a vicious gangster and the love of his life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Looks to be solidly entertaining.
COLD TURKEY (Film Buff) Genre: Comedy. The arrival of an estranged daughter turns a Thanksgiving family gathering into disarray. Release Strategy: Los Angeles (opening in New York City November 22). RATING: 2.5 The trailer doesn’t really tell me that this is anything but a typical quirky indie family gathering comedy.
DEAR MR. WATTERSON (Fingerprint) Genre: Documentary. The effect of the Calvin & Hobbes newspaper strip cannot be understated; this documentary attempts to explain just how important it is to modern culture. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 I was brought back to reading this strip as a young man by the trailer alone; I imagine the complete doc will be a complete nostalgia-fest.
FAUST (Leisure Time) Genre: Drama. Goethe’s classic tale of a deal with the devil is given a modern update. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.8 A psychedelic take on the legend by arguably the greatest living Russian filmmaker.
NEBRASKA (Paramount) Genre: Dramedy. After receiving a sweepstakes winning entry notification in the mail, a cantankerous old man gets his son to accompany him to Nebraska to claim the prize despite the younger man’s skepticism as to the validity of the letter. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 The latest from director Alexander Payne stars Bruce Dern and Will Forte.
SUNLIGHT JR. (Gravitas/Goldwyn) Genre: Drama. A couple on the ragged edge of poverty faces adversity and pregnancy together. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Great cast includes Naomi Watts, Matt Dillon and Norman Reedus.

NOVEMBER 22, 2013

CONTRACTED (IFC Midnight) Genre: Horror. After a woman spends a night with a mysterious man, she discovers she’s contracted something more catastrophic than an STD. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 Has all the earmarks of becoming a cult favorite.
DELIVERY MAN (DreamWorks) Genre: Comedy. A slacker who works as a delivery man for his father’s meatpacking business discovers that through some sort of glitch he’s become the biological father of 533 children through a sperm bank he donated to years earlier. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Based on the hit from the Florida Film Festival Starbuck, this one has the same writer/director but Vince Vaughn in the lead.
DETROIT UNLEADED (Self-Released) Genre: Romantic Comedy. Romeo and Juliet plays itself out in a convenience store attached to a gas station in Detroit. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.1 An official selection at the 2012 Toronto Film Festival, looks to have an earthy sense of humor and a whole lot of heart.
FROZEN (Disney) Genre: Animated Feature. A young – dare I say it – princess must travel the length of her kingdom, finding allies where she can, in order to save the kingdom from the icy spell her sister has cast. Release Strategy: Los Angeles (opening wide November 27). RATING: 1.9 The teaser was the closest thing to a Looney Tune that Disney’s ever done.
THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (Lionsgate) Genre: Science Fiction. Katniss must weather political intrigue and a growing rebellion at which she is the center of before she is cast in a new Hunger Games – against former winners like herself. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.3 I liked the first film in the franchise; hopefully the second will be better still.
PHILOMENA (Weinstein) Genre: Drama. A woman who’d given up her son for adoption in Ireland goes to the United States decades later to find him, aided by a BBC Reporter. Release Strategy: Limited (opening in expanded release November 27). RATING: 1.5 Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan headline this acclaimed festival favorite.
WEEKEND OF A CHAMPION (Submarine Deluxe) Genre: Documentary. In 1971, Roman Polanski followed Grand Prix legend Jackie Stewart for a weekend prior to a big race; forty years later the two meet again to reminisce. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.8 I think I may have gotten my fill of Formula One racing with Rush.

NOVEMBER 27, 2013

BLACK NATIVITY (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Urban Family Holiday Drama. A frustrated street-wise teen from Baltimore sent to New York City to stay with estranged relatives for Christmas embarks on a journey back home to be with his mother. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.2 Based on the acclaimed Langston Hughes play.
COUSIN JULES (Cinema Guild) Genre: Documentary. The rhythms of life for a blacksmith in rural France are recorded over a five year period. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.0 Filmed from 1968-1972 and shown to great acclaim in 1973 this lost masterpiece hasn’t been shown publically since then and it should be seen by any self-respecting movie lover.
HOMEFRONT (Open Road) Genre: Action Thriller. When a young girl gets into a row with a boy at school, the meth cooking uncle of the boy decides to pick on the dad – who turns out to be ex-DEA. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 For Da Queen, any movie with Jason Statham in it is enough reason to go and see it.
JOURNEY TO THE SOUTH PACIFIC (MacGillivray/Freeman) Genre: Nature Documentary. Cate Blanchett narrates this exploration of remote West Papua where a myriad of species of life exist both above and below the sea. Release Strategy: Wide (IMAX). RATING: 2.5 Amazingly colorful and bright, something that should make for a fantastic IMAX experience.
OLDBOY (FilmDistrict) Genre: Drama. A man is kidnapped and held for 20 years while he is accused of the murder of his wife; suddenly released, he is given just three days to discover why he was held and who really killed his wife. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.4 Based on an amazing Korean film and directed by Spike Lee; I wonder if the mind-blowing twist at the end will make it intact here.

NOVEMBER 29, 2013

BETTIE PAGE REVEALS ALL (Music Box) Genre: Documentary. The iconic but reclusive sex symbol at last tells her story in her own words through a series of interviews recorded starting a decade before her death. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.9 She’s someone who is still a tremendous influence even today, yet still a figure of mystery which might be part of her allure.
MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM (Weinstein) Genre: Biographical Drama. The trials and tribulations of the beloved South African liberator with Idris Elba in the title role. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 A definite candidate for Oscar gold.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
About Time, Aftermath, Ender’s Game, Last Vegas, The Book Thief, Thor: The Dark World, Nebraska, Delivery Man, Frozen, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Homefront, Oldboy, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom