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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New Releases for the Week of October 18, 2013


Carrie

CARRIE

(Screen Gems) Chloe Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer, Portia Doubleday, Alex Russell, Gabriella Wilde, Ansel Elgort, Barry Shabaka Henley. Directed by Kimberly Pierce

A young picked-upon girl, the daughter of an obsessively devout mother, develops telekinetic powers among other things. Some bitchy cheerleader sorts decide to play a prank on her at the prom – not a very good idea. A remake of the classic 1976 film with Sissy Spacek and itself based on one of Stephen King’s earliest novels.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday night)

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for bloody violence, disturbing images, language and some sexual content)

A.C.O.D.

(The Film Arcade) Adam Scott, Richard Jenkins, Catherine O’Hara, Jane Lynch. The adult son of a divorced couple whose acrimonious divorce scarred him to the point of needing therapy needs to get his bickering parents to make peace so that they can attend his brother’s wedding. He also discovers the therapy he underwent to get through the pain of the divorce was actually a project by a writer to chronicle the effects of divorce on children which led to a bestseller on her part but exposing all of
his most painful secrets. When he finally gets his parents together, his life goes spinning off into directions he couldn’t have imagined. This played the Sundance Across America series at the Enzian earlier this year and my review can be found here.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for language and brief sexual content)

Boss

(Viacom 18) Akshay Kumar, Shiv Pandit, Mithun Chakraborty, Ronit Roy. A petty criminal takes the fall for his father when he accidentally and unknowingly kills a teenager. After serving his time, he relocates to another city, only to discover that his younger brother has gotten into a conflict with the bullying son of a home minister. He will have to return home to defend his family – a home that doesn’t want him back.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Escape Plan

(Summit) Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Vincent D’Onofrio. An expert on structural security who makes a lucrative living exposing the defects in prisons and other correctional institutions takes on a brand new high-tech state-of-the-art Supermax prison. Unbeknownst to him, someone wants him to disappear from the grid – permanently. To survive he is going to have to make an alliance with a brutal inmate and assuming he survives long enough to put his plan into action, find out who put him there…and make whoever it is pay!

See the trailer, promos and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday night)

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for violence and language throughout)

The Fifth Estate

(Touchstone/DreamWorks) Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Anthony Mackie, Laura Linney. Idealists Julian Assange and Daniel Domscheit-berg, disgusted and disillusioned by all the chicanery going on in secret, decide to found a website where whistle-blowers can expose the corruption and crime going on in the political and corporate worlds. However their idealism will be put to the test when a cache of top secret documents from the U.S. Military is leaked and leads to a fundamental dilemma – is the freedom of accessible information more important than the potential loss of human life?

See the trailer and featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: R (for language and some violence) 

The Hunt

(Magnolia) Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp, Lasse Fogelstrom. A substitute teacher in a small Danish town in the midst of a bitter divorce and custody battle is unexpectedly accused of molesting the daughter of his best friend. Despite his protestations of innocence and a lack of any evidence, nobody believes him and he is ostracized from nearly everyone in the town. As events escalate and grow uglier, he will have to find a way to convince the town – and his friend – that he is an innocent man. One of the best films to come out of this year’s Florida Film Festival, you can read my review here.

See the trailer, a clip and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for sexual content including a graphic image, violence and language)

I’m in Love with a Church Girl

(High Top) Ja Rule, Adrienne Bailon, Stephen Baldwin, Michael Madsen. A young man who has made his fortune as a drug trafficker attempts to get out of the business and go straight although the DEA is skeptical of his intentions. When he meets a beautiful but devout woman, he falls for her despite the difference in their lifestyles. Both of them will be sorely tested in their faith if their love is to overcome the long odds that it faces.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Faith Drama (opens Thursday)

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, a scene of violence, some suggestive content and brief language) 

Paradise

(Image/RLJ) Julianne Hough, Russell Brand, Octavia Spencer, Holly Hunter. A young woman who has led a sheltered life in a small Montana town is nearly killed in an accident, causing her to take stock of her situation and her mainly unlived life. Deciding to see for herself what the other side has to offer, she takes her insurance settlement to Las Vegas and falls in with some fellow wounded souls and finds something a little more lasting than sin.

See the trailer, clips and a link to stream the full move at Amazon here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual material, substance abuse, some language and thematic elements)

The Snitch Cartel

(BN) Manolo Cardona, Tom Sizemore, Juana Acosta, Kuno Becker. Based on the life of Andreas Lopez-Lopez, a young boy from a poor background tries to win the heart of the girl he’s had a crush on since he was very young but doesn’t have the money to catch her eye. He joins one of the more vicious drug cartels in Colombia and works his way up the ladder but in doing so catches the eye of the DEA as well.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Drama

Rating: R (for strong violence, language, drug content and sexuality/nudity)

Four-Warned: July 2013


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

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

Each entry is broken down as follows:

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

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

FOUR TO SEE
1. RED 2 (1.3)
TIE. THE WOLVERINE (1.3)
3. THE CONJURING (1.4)
TIE. PACIFIC RIM (1.4)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. THE HUNT (1.1)
2. FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY (1.2)
TIE. WAYS TO LIVE FOREVER (1.2)
4. ONLY GOD FORGIVES (1.3)

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

JULY 3,2013

 

 

BIG STAR: NOTHING CAN HURT ME (Magnolia) Genre: Documentary. The career of the seminal and influential power pop band Big Star is profiled. Release Strategy: Limited . RATING: 1.5 One of the best documentaries at this year’s Florida Film Festival, you can read my review of it here.
DESPICABLE ME 2 (Universal) Genre: Animated Feature. Supervillain Gru is called upon to save the world from an even more despicable bad guy. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.7 I really liked the original Despicable Meand the trailers have been uniformly funny for the new one.
KEVIN HART: LET ME EXPLAIN (Summit) Genre: Stand-Up Performance. Hart, one of the most successful stand-ups out there, approaches his first two appearances at Madison Square Garden with anxiety and eagerness. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Not sure how this stacks up with his last stand-up movie but hopefully he hasn’t worn out his welcome yet.
THE LONE RANGER (Disney) Genre: Western. A Texas lawman, betrayed by treasonous elements in his own government, allies with a Native American as an outlaw to bring justice in a situation where justice doesn’t seem possible. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.7 From the makers of the Pirates of the Caribbeanfranchise, although the buzz here has largely been negative.
THE LOOK OF LOVE (IFC) Genre: Dramedy. The King of Soho amasses a fortune of billions based on an empire of nightclubs and porn. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (expanding July 12). RATING: 2.0 Loosely based on the life of Paul Raymond, Steve Coogan will be playing the lead character which is never a bad thing.

JULY 5,2013

 

 

ABSENCE (Cinedigm) Genre: Sci-Fi Horror. When a young mother-to-be’s pregnancy mysteriously disappears, her story is viewed with suspicion and mistrust – until it becomes clear her experience is just the tip of the iceberg. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Another found footage film – I think we’ve definitely reached the saturation point.
HAMMER OF THE GODS (Magnet) Genre: Adventure. A young Viking prince is sent out to find his older brother who had disappeared years earlier. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Worth a look, but unlikely to be as good as the excellent History Channel show Vikings.
JUST LIKE A WOMAN (Cohen Media Group) Genre: Drama. Two women, each with her own reasons, head to Santa Fe for a competition for a spot in a famous belly dancing troupe and form a lasting friendship. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Kind of in the vein of Thelma and Louise and kinda not.
STUCK IN LOVE (Millennium) Genre: Drama. A family of writers, all deeply affected when the mother leaves their novelist dad for a younger man, deal with the complexities of love over the course of a tumultuous year. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Not sure about this one yet, but stars Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Connelly so outlook is good.
THE WAY, WAY BACK (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Dramedy. A teen whose mom’s overbearing boyfriend is making his summer miserable finds an unlikely friendship with the manager of a water park. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Nice trailer, terrific cast including Steve Carell, Toni Collette and Sam Rockwell.

JULY 9,2013

 

 

COFFEE TOWN (FilmBuff) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A slacker who uses an Internet coffee house to conduct his business attempts to thwart the owner’s plans to convert it into a bar. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 The trailer really didn’t inspire any confidence that I’d find anything to like in the movie.

JULY 10,2013

 

 

ISRAEL: A HOME MOVIE (Alma) Genre: Documentary. Through the home movies of citizens and immigrants over the last 50 years, we observe the change in the nature of Israel and her people. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.4 An interesting concept but do I really want to watch the home movies of other people for 90 minutes?

JULY 12,2013

 

 

CRYSTAL FAIRY (IFC) Genre: Comedy. A pair of mismatched American tourists go on a Chilean road trip in search of a legendary hallucinogen. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.4 Looks a bit like an acid film for the 21st century which wouldn’t be a bad thing but Michael Cera’s in it.
FRUITVALE STATION (Weinstein) Genre: True Life Drama. A shooting on New Year’s Eve in a BART station in Oakland galvanizes the community. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 Given recent events it seems fitting to take another look at how the African-American community is viewed and treated.
GROWN UPS 2 (Columbia) Genre: Comedy. After moving with his family back to his childhood home town, a rich Hollywood agent teams up with his boyhood buddies to take on some arrogant frat boy types. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.3 First movie was decent. Not sure that even Sandler, Rock, James and Spade can save this one.
HOT FLASHES (Vertical) Genre: Comedy. A group of middle aged women challenge the state girls high school basketball champs in order to keep their mobile breast cancer screening truck rolling. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Yes, we get it; gals can be crude too. Can we all move on now?
THE HUNT (Magnolia) Genre: Drama. When a substitute teacher is accused of inappropriate behavior with a child, the whole town turns against him. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.1 One of the most gripping films to come out of the Florida Film Festival, you can read my review of it here.
KILLING SEASON (Millennium) Genre: Action Thriller. An American hunter and a European tourist make unlikely friends but when the tourist’s true intentions comes to light the two will face off in a one-on-one war. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 With a cast that includes Travolta and De Niro this is certainly worth a look..
PACIFIC RIM (Warner Brothers) Genre: Science Fiction. When the Earth is invaded by gigantic monsters from beneath the sea, our last remaining hope lies in…giant robots. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX). RATING: 1.4 Yeah, I know – sounds awful but it is a Guillermo del Toro movie so ya gotta have faith it’s gonna be good.
PAWN SHOP CHRONICLES (Anchor Bay) Genre: Action. An anthology of tales revolving around a Southern pawn shop and the people who go there to change their lives.. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Looks like Pulp Fiction meets The Dukes of Hazzard and if it’s more the former than the latter could be a big winner.
TERMS AND CONDITIONS MAY APPLY (Variance) Genre: Documentary. How big corporations and the government are eroding your civil rights – with your own permission. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 This may well be the most important documentary you ever watch.
V/H/S 2 (Magnet) Genre: Horror. Two private investigators searching for a missing student break into his abandoned house and find a pile of videotapes, each more horrific than the last. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Looks even better than the first one, and that first one wasn’t all that bad.

JULY 17,2013

 

 

COMPUTER CHESS (Kino-Lorber) Genre: Comedy. A group of computer chess game programmers in 1980 gather in a shabby hotel for a conference and tournament. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 In glorious black and white, looks a little bit out there but actually kind of intriguing.
DEALIN’ WITH IDIOTS (IFC) Genre: Comedy. A comedian, fascinated with the ultra-competitive environment of his son’s Little League team, decides to get more involved in order to find material for his next movie. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles July 19). RATING: 3.0 Fascinatin’ idea; not so sure about the execution.
TURBO (DreamWorks) Genre: Animated Feature. Dreaming of being faster, a snail is transformed into a turbo-charged racer who might well challenge for the Indy 500. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 2.2 Doesn’t really excite me all that much, a cross between Cars and Ratatouille.

JULY 19,2013

 

 

THE ACT OF KILLING (Drafthouse) Genre: Documentary. Indonesian mass murderers, revered as heroes, re-enact their crimes on film. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Shocking and surreal, will change your entire view of life and the world.
BLACKFISH (Magnolia) Genre: Documentary. The story of Tilikum, the Orca who tragically killer his trainer at Sea World last year – and how keeping these animals in captivity may be driving them into psychosis. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 Of very much interest particularly here in the Orlando area.
THE CONJURING (New Line) Genre: Supernatural Horror. One of the earliest cases of renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Leslie Warren may be even more terrifying than the Amityville Horror which they also were involved with. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.4 Could well be one of the scariest movies this summer.
EVIDENCE (RLJ/Image) Genre: Horror. After a bus crashes in the desert, the survivors are forced to fight for their lives as a sadistic killer picks them off one by one – all caught on a myriad of recording devices left behind for detectives to puzzle over. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 A different means of utilizing found footage; might be worth a look.
GIRL MOST LIKELY (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Comedy. A once-promising playwright whose career and relationship has fizzled is put in the custody of her estranged party-hearty mother after a faked suicide attempt is mistaken for the real thing. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Pretty good cast (including Kristen Wiig and Annette Bening) but pretty lame premise.
GRABBERS (IFC Midnight) Genre: Horror Comedy. An idyllic Irish fishing village is beset by a terrifying undersea monster which of course means everybody in the village must get blotto. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Umm…I know the Irish love to drink (reputedly) but I’m not sure what being drunk has to do with the sea monsters here.
ICEBERG SLIM: PORTRAIT OF A PIMP (Phase 4) Genre: Documentary. The story of author and former pimp Iceberg Slim whose work was the basis for street literature. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Played at the recent Florida Film Festival but I have to say the art form depicted here doesn’t really do much for me..
ONLY GOD FORGIVES (Radius) Genre: Action. A former gangster and kickboxer living in Bangkok must seek revenge for his brother’s murder or be murdered himself. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.3 From the director and star of Drive comes a movie that may be even better than that.
R.I.P.D. (Universal) Genre: Supernatural Action. Cops who have passed on to the other side police souls who refuse to abide by the rules of the afterlife discover a threat to the world of the living that only they can stop. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 1.5 Based on the Dark Horse comic, stars Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds and looks both funny and frightening – all pluses in my book.
RED 2 (Summit) Genre: Action. Retired CIA field operatives must once again come out of retirement, this time to track down a portable nuclear device that may threaten world stability. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.3 Great cast and looks to have the same elements that I loved about the first film.
WAYS TO LIVE FOREVER (World Wide Motion Pictures) Genre: Family Drama. A 12-year-old leukemia patient confronts his own mortality and chooses to live life on his own terms. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.2 I was surprised at how the trailer doesn’t appear to be maudlin or manipulative – oh right, it’s a British film. They don’t do that sort of thing over there.

JULY 25,2013

 

 

APARTMENT 1303 3D (Gravitas) Genre: Supernatural Thriller. When a young woman falls to her death from a high rise apartment building, her sister moves in to find out the truth about the incident. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Decent cast but doesn’t seem to add anything new to the mix.

JULY 26,2013

 

 

BLUE JASMINE (Sony Classics) Genre: Comedy. A fashionable New York City housewife suffers through the end stages of an acute crisis. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Woody Allen’s latest is more of a return to form, set in Manhattan and San Francisco.
DRUG WAR (Variance) Genre: Martial Arts. A meth lab cooker is captured by the Chinese military police an forced to inform on his bosses, but as things get more savage and brutal it’s hard to tell who is who. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles August 2). RATING: 2.9 Looks kind of like the stereotype of Chinese martial arts films – lots of great action, zero plot.
FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY (MPI) Genre: Sci-Fi Horror. Russian soldiers attempt to foil a Nazi plot to use Victor von Frankenstein’s research to create an army of the undead. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.2 Genius idea; looks like genuine Nazi zombie horror goodness.
STRANDED (RLJ) Genre: Sci-Fi Horror. The moon base is cut off from Earth by a meteor shower which also included shape-shifting killer alien spores. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 How many more different ways are we going to remake The Thing?
THE TIME BEING (Tribeca) Genre: Thriller. A struggling artist hoping a rich man will become his benefactor instead gets increasingly bizarre surveillance assignments from him. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Didn’t get a feeling one way or the other from the trailer; not at the top of my list, not at the bottom either.
THE TO-DO LIST (CBS) Genre: Comedy. High-achieving all through high school, an uptight grad wants to change her image the summer before heading off to a prestigious university. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.0 Loosely based on the writer-director’s own experiences.
THE WOLVERINE (20th Century Fox) Genre: Superhero. The ageless X-Man with the mutant healing factor discovers that his mutant ability can be removed, giving him a normal lifespan. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 1.3 One of the more moving films from this year’s Florida Film Festival.

JULY 31,2013

 

 

SMASH & GRAB: THE STORY OF THE PINK PANTHERS (Goldcrest) Genre: Documentary. Brazen thieves known for lightning-fast jewel heists around the world are profiled here. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Unable to watch trailer so I’m not sure how good this one is.
THE SMURFS 2 (Columbia) Genre: Family. Gargamel blah blah blah Smurfs blah blah blah Neil Patrick Harris blah blah blah.. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 4.0 Couldn’t stand the first one; won’t even see this one.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
Despicable Me 2, The Lone Ranger, Grown Ups 2, Pacific Rim, Turbo, Blackfish, R.I.P.D., Red 2, The Wolverine

The Hunt (Jagten)


The consequences of gossip and lies can be devastating.

The consequences of gossip and lies can be devastating.

(2012) Drama (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, Josefine Grabol, Daniel Engstrup, Katrine Brygmann, Hana Shuan, Oyvind Hagen-Traberg, Nicolai Dahl Hamilton. Directed by Thomas Vinterberg   

Offshoring

Florida Film Festival 2013

Western culture has this tendency to idealize children. In our eyes they are truthful little angels, incapable of lying. Well, any parent will tell you that they do lie, through their teeth at times. Sometimes, well-meaning adults  can push children into saying what they think those adults want to hear. We are defenseless against the word of a child.

Lucas (Mikkelsen) is working as a kindergarten assistant in a small town in Denmark (the school he previously taught at has been shut down). Divorced and regularly denied visitation rights with his son, he is nonetheless well-liked and well-regarded in his community in which he has deep long-standing ties. His best friend, Theo (Larsen) has been known to drink himself insensible in Lucas’ company, always relying on Lucas to get him home to his wryly understanding wife Agnes (Hassing).

Theo’s daughter Klara (Wedderkoop), an angelic blonde little girl, adores Lucas…maybe too much. One afternoon when Lucas is rough housing with some of the boys, Klara rushes in and plants a rather adult kiss on his open mouth. Taken aback, Lucas admonishes her never to do that, and promptly forgets about the incident.

Klara doesn’t however. Humiliated, she sulks. Principal Grethe (Wold) finds her and quickly realizes that something’s wrong but she misinterprets and assumes that the reason she’s upset with Lucas is because he touched her inappropriately. She calls in a child services advocate (Dupont) who questions Klara. Klara, eager to be on the playground with her friends and tired of the incessant questioning, finally agrees that is what happened to her.

Lucas finds himself in the middle of a storm that he didn’t see coming. His denials are met with anger – Klara is a child not known for lying, why would she lie about this? He is quickly ostracized by the community, by people he knows well who suddenly see him as a child molester and a pervert. Theo is torn – he can’t believe that Lucas would do such a thing but Agnes has no such qualms. Of course he did – her angel said so and when Klara, seeing the rift developing between her parents and Lucas exclaims that he never did anything wrong, Agnes is sure that she is blocking out an unpleasant memory and tells her daughter so firmly that Klara believes her. And now other kids are coming forward, claiming Lucas took them into his basement and fondled them.

Even Lucas’ girlfriend Nadja (Rapaport) has some doubts about his innocence which causes the enraged Lucas to dump her. Worse still, his visitation rights to his son Marcus (Fogelstrom) are suspended. Rocks are thrown through his window. Klara however doesn’t see the enormity of what’s happened – she shows up at Lucas’ door to walk his dog, something he would normally allow her to do but he gently shoos her back home.

Lucas is shown the uglier side of those he has known all his life as despite there being no evidence of any wrongdoing other than the word of Klara (the other stories are discredited when it is discovered by the police that Lucas’ house has no basement). As Christmas comes, Lucas is completely alone, ostracized and subject to being assaulted when he shows his face in a local grocery store.

Vinterberg, known as one of the founders of the Dogme95 movement of minimalist filmmaking with his masterpiece (to this point) Feste has crafted a movie that surpasses even that fine film. I can’t remember a movie in which I felt so emotionally drained after having sat through – some might consider the act of watching it a bit of an ordeal.

But it’s a good kind of ordeal, the kind that reminds us how ephemeral those ties that bind can be and how quickly our whole life can be turned inside out. Part of what draws us into this story is Mikkelsen’s outstanding performance. If this were a studio film (and I defy you to find a Hollywood studio with the guts to release a movie this harrowing) he’d be a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination come January. Because this is being distributed by Magnolia – a fine distributor of indie and foreign films, mind you – chances are it won’t get the notice and the push needed to get him the votes needed to get him on the ballot. Rest assured however that Mikkelsen’s work is as good as anything  you’ll see on the final ballot. It’s searing; Lucas is basically a quiet, good man trying to pull his life back together after a rough patch who is suddenly thrust into a situation that makes everything he went through previously look like a walk in the park. When things go South, Lucas reacts at first with incredulity then with denial and then with rage before finally going into a kind of shock.

The photography is simply exquisite as the bucolic Danish town, covered in snow or shining in the late summer/early autumn sun looks idyllic on the surface but like often happens, the rot is just below the surface. There is a scene near the end of the movie where Lucas stumbles into a Christmas Eve service where he is clearly not wanted. His face bruised and bloodied from a beating earlier that day, he sits in a pew, receiving disapproving glares from those around him. Nearby sits Theo and his family and Theo and he lock eyes several times. Theo gradually realizes that his friend is innocent – because he knows his friend and he sees the truth in his eyes. It’s a powerful scene and one that resonated with me long after the movie ended. I would recommend seeing the movie just for that scene alone.

Fortunately, there’s a lot more going for it than just that scene. Frankly, this is a movie that is as good as anything you’ll see this year. If there’s one flaw, it’s that the intensity might be too much for some. Still, if you are not emotionally fragile, this is the kind of movie that will lift you by the scruff of the neck and force you to see something of yourself whether you want to face it or not. To me, that’s a movie that’s worth its weight in gold.

REASONS TO GO: Emotionally wrenching. Amazing performance by Mikkelsen who should get Oscar consideration for it (but won’t).

REASONS TO STAY: Some people might be uncomfortable with the themes.

FAMILY VALUES:  Very, very, very adult themes. Some violence, some bad language and some sexuality. Definitely not for kids of all ages.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Mikkelsen won the Best Actor award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival for his role here

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/26/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews. Metacritic: 80/100; it’s still early yet but the critics appear to be embracing this film.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Scarlet Letter

FINAL RATING: 9.5/10

NEXT: Offshoring Part 2