Monday, January 20, 2014

Oscar Thoughts & Predictions

oscars2It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Yes, Oscar season is upon us and the nominations have been unleashed. All in all, I’m happy with the picks, though 2013 was such a strong year for movies, it would’ve been difficult to screw them up TOO badly. We have the usual mix of expected contenders (GRAVITY, AMERICAN HUSTLE, 12 YEARS A SLAVE), a few eyebrow-raisers (PHILOMENA? No Tom Hanks? No Pixar!) and the occasional selection that is completely out of left field (what the hell is Best Song nominee ALONE YET NOT ALONE?!). Should make for a good show and hopefully wash away the bad taste left by last year’s mostly dull, unfunny and uneventful Seth MacFarlane-hosted affair. Now let’s go through the list and see what’s what. As usual, I will include my predictions based on who I WANT to win and who I think WILL win. Good times. And the nominees are....


her_xxlgWell, the good news is that all of these movies are good and deserving of accolades! The bad news is that those accolades didn’t necessarily need to include Best Picture, especially when more deserving titles (ahem, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, my #2 movie of the year, unceremoniously snubbed in most major categories) have been left out. Movies like NEBRASKA, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB and PHILOMENA are all performance-driven and deserve their various acting nods, but stand little chance here. I loved THE WOLF OF WALL STREET but it may be too divisive for a good showing on Oscar night. GRAVITY (my #4 movie of the year) tied for the most nominations overall (10) and with its mix of critical and commercial acclaim, could very easily pull off a sweep. My heart is rooting for HER, my #3 of the year and a simply wonderful film. But in the end, I think it’s going to be a two-horse race between the serious & important (12 YEARS A SLAVE, my #8 of the year) and the fun lark (AMERICAN HUSTLE, which just missed my top 10). These two films have been splitting other award season top prizes (both won Best Picture in their respective categories at the Golden Globes; HUSTLE won the SAG ensemble; SLAVE won the PGA award, actually tying with GRAVITY) and might split categories throughout the night, but I think serious/important will take the top prize, and since it is a tremendous film, I cannot argue with that one bit.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Her (or Gravity)
WILL PROBABLY WIN: 12 Years a Slave

Bruce Dern, NEBRASKA
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 YEARS A SLAVE
Matthew McConaughey, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB

dicaprioVery sorry to not see Tom Hanks for CAPTAIN PHILLIPS here -- it was his best performance in years and his work in the last act was just astonishing. Joaquin Phoenix (HER) or Oscar Isaac (INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS) or Robert Redford (ALL IS LOST) would’ve been nice, too... but then again, I’m not sure whom I would’ve given the boot. Maybe Christian Bale, since AMERICAN HUSTLE, for all its acting prowess, was really owned by its ladies. Dern is good & crotchety in NEBRASKA and clearly scored the requisite oldster vote. Ejiofor is fantastic in 12 YEARS A SLAVE and has a definite shot. I’ll be rooting for DiCaprio to pick up his long-awaited first Oscar for arguably the best and most jaw-dropping performance of his career in WOLF OF WALL STREET. However, the Age of McConaughey has been running wild since 2012 and will likely culminate with Oscar gold for his tremendous work in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB -- especially if the Globes, SAG Awards and others are any indication.


Cate Blanchett, BLUE JASMINE
Sandra Bullock, GRAVITY

blanchettFirst of all, can you believe that Amy Adams now has FIVE Oscar nominations under her belt? That’s approaching Kate Winslet territory, but in less time. She rules and in any other year, she’d have a shot to win her first statue with her awesome work in AMERICAN HUSTLE, but probably not this year, because Cate Blanchett’s Streetcar-esque tour-de-force in BLUE JASMINE was the best performance back in May and is still the best now. Sandra Bullock commands the screen like she never has before (rocking the hot pants in zero-G, no less). Meryl Streep takes her Streepiness to another level in an otherwise “meh” dysfunctional family melodrama and Judi Dench is also great (and has awesome chemistry with Steve Coogan) as the titular Philomena -- but personally, I would replace both of them with Brie Larson (SHORT TERM 12) or Adele Exarchopoulos (BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR) or Greta Gerwig (FRANCES HA). Still, yes, a strong category indeed -- but this prize is Cate the Great’s to lose.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Blanchett

Michael Fassbender, 12 YEARS A SLAVE

letoThis category is funny if you picture CAPTAIN PHILLIPS’ Somali pirate Barkhad Abdi calling Tom Hanks on the phone and saying, “I’m the captain now!” Heh. An electric performance and a deserving nod. I like Bradley Cooper and David O. Russell really brings out the best in him -- though an argument could have also been made for Louis CK’s small but vital role. I cannot believe we live in world where Jonah Hill is a TWO-TIME Oscar nominee. For that matter, who would’ve thought Jordan Catalano would be nominated for an Oscar for playing a transgender AIDS patient? (Wonder what Angela Chase thinks about that.) I should mention that my fav supporting role of the year, Sam Rockwell in THE WAY, WAY BACK is nowhere to be found, but that was always a pipe dream; would’ve also been happy to see James Gandolfini get a posthumous nod for ENOUGH SAID. Anyway, lastly we have Fassbender giving us one of the most heinous depictions of real-life villainy in recent memory. He has been among the best in the business for several years now and could easily win. But I think Leto deserves it more.


Sally Hawkins, BLUE JASMINE
Jennifer Lawrence, AMERICAN HUSTLE
Lupita Nyong'o, 12 YEARS A SLAVE
June Squbb, NEBRASKA

lupitaReally would’ve liked to have seen Amy Adams pull double-duty and score a nod here for her amazing, adorable, understated work in HER. But alas. We can rule out Hawkins, though she is fine in BLUE JASMINE. June Squibb is the best part of NEBRASKA and I’m thrilled to see her here. I do think the Academy has something up their sleeve by nominating Julia Roberts (America’s past sweetheart) and Jennifer Lawrence (America’s current sweetheart) and pitting them against each other. J-Law is undoubtedly great, whereas Roberts is once again the weakest link of a solid ensemble cast, so it shouldn’t even be a contest. But it’s a moot point, anyway, because this award belongs to the lovely Lupita Nyong’o, whose work in 12 YEARS A SLAVE is just gut-wrenching. The Globes disagreed, but the SAG Awards got it right and the Oscars will, too.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Lupita Nyong’o

Alfonso Cuaron, GRAVITY
Alexander Payne, NEBRASKA
Steve McQueen, 12 YEARS A SLAVE

cuaronGotta give credit where credit is due to Russell: The man can direct the hell out of great actors. I believe he is the first director whose films have scored nominations in all four acting categories two years in a row. That’s wild. So, sure, he deserves a nod himself and could win if HUSTLE sweeps. Alexander Payne is now 6-for-6 as a director of great films, but I would have gladly thrown him under the bus to give the Coen Bros. a nomination. Always a pleasure to see Scorsese get some love -- he brings an intensity to THE WOLF OF WALL STREET that instantly ranks it alongside his best. McQueen’s methodical hand helps 12 YEARS A SLAVE achieve a mix of brutality and humanity that is just incredible -- I think he will win (and let’s not overlook the fact that he would be the first black Best Director winner). But it could also go to Cuaron, whose precision filmmaking helped create one of the most awe-inspiring cinematic experiences of our time, and I’m not sure anyone else could have done it quite as effectively.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Cuaron (or Scorsese)
WILL PROBABLY WIN: McQueen (or Cuaron)


her2So fucking disappointed that the Coen Bros. got snubbed for INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS -- maybe the Academy just didn’t get it. Hell, I’m not even sure I completely get it, but there’s no denying its multilayered greatness. The Coens simply work on another level. My guess is that AMERICAN HUSTLE will win this category and 12 YEARS A SLAVE will win for Adapted Screenplay, just to keep everybody on their toes. I’ve come to terms with it, even though I would be absolutely thrilled if HER picked up some gold for Spike Jonze’s brilliant, creative story that offers such a unique and subtly detailed vision of the future. Woody Allen won two years ago for MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, but BLUE JASMINE is not as good as that movie -- still nice to see the Woodster rack up another nod. Rule out DALLAS BUYERS CLUB and NEBRASKA. I’d be legit surprised if HUSTLE doesn’t win -- but hey, it is a super fun flick.

WILL PROBABLY WIN: American Hustle


before-midnightI’ll just come right out and say that if my #1 movie of the year, BEFORE MIDNIGHT, pulls off a miracle and wins this, my shrieks of orgasmic ecstasy will be heard from sea to shining sea. Unfortunately it has zero chance of winning. (Also, for the record, sequels are considered “adaptations” of their predecessors by the Academy, hence its inclusion here. Weird rule.) As mentioned, 12 YEARS A SLAVE likely has this in the bag and I cannot argue. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is probably the closest contender but I don’t see it happening. And I guess CAPTAIN PHILLIPS and PHILOMENA are just there because they need five.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Before Midnight
WILL PROBABLY WIN: 12 Years a Slave


FrozenMan... no Pixar makes me sad and feels unnatural. MONSTERS UNIVERSITY was pretty good and certainly more deserving than DESPICABLE ME 2 (damn Minions must have stuffed the ballot box). I actually really liked THE CROODS, one of DreamWorks’ better animated efforts. No idea what ERNEST & CELESTINE is all about -- that’s one of those random nominees that I must seek out between now and the big show. THE WIND RISES is wonderful and could score “legacy” votes for Miyazaki, since it is presumably his last film. But if FROZEN doesn’t win, it would be a damn shame -- it is a great film in every way and easily Disney’s best since the last Golden Age.


THE HUNT (Denmark)
OMAR (Palestine)

greatbeautyAt first, I was absolutely stunned by the absence of BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR until I remembered that it was not eligible and France submitted another film as its entry. Too bad, because it is amazing (and my #5 movie of the year). Unfortunately, my uncultured ass did not do very well in this category. I did see THE GREAT BEAUTY, which won the Golden Globe, and it is tremendous. THE HUNT is an unsettling/infuriating story driven by a great performance by Mads Mikkelson. Aaaaand that’s it. Will do my damnedest to see the others before March 2nd, but for now, I got nothin’ (though I have heard good things about BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN). I can say that BEAUTY and HUNT are the highest-profile titles so the safe bet is one of them.

I’M ROOTING FOR: The Great Beauty
WILL PROBABLY WIN: The Great Beauty or The Hunt


GRAVITYOh look, this must be the category where the Academy remembered that INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS is a movie that came out in 2013! (Jerks.) Well, it is definitely deserving -- the sad, grey tones perfectly capture the film’s downcast themes. No 12 YEARS A SLAVE nod is odd. Really annoyed at myself for missing THE GRANDMASTER in theatres because I remember thinking about it several times -- will rectify that as soon as possible. NEBRASKA is a lovely, black-and-white postcard of the dusty Midwest, while the great Roger Deakins adds his magic touch to the gritty, painful PRISONERS. However, GRAVITY freaking PUT US IN OUTER SPACE, not to mention Cuaron’s mastery of the long-take -- if enough Academy members actually saw it on the big screen (especially in IMAX 3D), it should be a no-brainer.



gravity3Very surprised to not see Thelma Schoonmaker, Martin Scorsese’s trusted editor, here -- WOLF OF WALL STREET may be a three-hour portrait of excess and debauchery but it’s crafted in such a way that it just flies by. Paul Greengrass films are always super intense and CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is no exception. GRAVITY is a goddamn thrill ride and may be the favorite here (and throughout the technical categories) even if it is not destined to win the big prize. Great story and performances aside, there’s nothing special about the way DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is put together. HUSTLE and SLAVE could be favorites -- the former for its screwball stylings and the latter for its punishing epicness -- but you know what? I’d put my money on outerrrrrr spaaaaace.



her3We’ve got five damn good-looking films here. (No HOBBIT or LLEWYN DAVIS, though? Boo.) I am thrilled to see HER recognized -- it is filled with splashes of color and whimsy and very specific details that make its vision of the future so vivid. It will likely take many viewings to completely soak it in. THE GREAT GATSBY features insanely intricate over-the-top eye candy, as Baz Luhrmann films always do, but I wonder if the Academy will think it’s TOO much (personally, I loved it). GRAVITY does a lot with the sparse vastness of space and the lonely confines of a shuttle. SLAVE and HUSTLE both intricately recreate their times & places in history. Tough category to call -- but my gut says SLAVE.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Her (or Gatsby)
WILL PROBABLY WIN: 12 Years a Slave


hustleAgain, I haven’t seen THE GRANDMASTER, so I can’t comment on that one -- but with nods here and in Cinematography, it must look mighty fine. GATSBY, again, features dazzling costumes that drip with glitz and glamour. THE INVISIBLE WOMAN is a good-looking Dickensian period piece and such films can never be counted out. 12 YEARS A SLAVE again pays tremendous attention to detail, but I think AMERICAN HUSTLE takes this one -- it may not have taken more than a visit to the nearest Salvation Army to recreate those ‘70s outfits, but damn are they memorable.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Hustle (or Gatsby)


badgrandpaLaugh all you want, but when I first saw the trailer for BAD GRANDPA, I didn’t even realize it was Johnny Knoxville. His old-age makeup is some of the best we’ve EVER seen -- certainly better than the awful work in films like J. EDGAR and HITCHCOCK and THE IRON LADY (some of which also scored Makeup nods, I believe). So, yes, it’s crazy to live in a world where a JACKASS movie is an Oscar nominee, but it is actually, legitimately deserving. However, I think DALLAS BUYERS CLUB will win here, especially if McConaughey’s dramatic weight loss is considered part of the makeup process. (In other news, fuck THE LONE RANGER.)

I’M ROOTING FOR: Bad Grandpa!!!
WILL PROBABLY WIN: Dallas Buyers Club

John Williams, THE BOOK THIEF
Steven Price, GRAVITY
William Buter & Owen Pallett, HER
Alexandre Desplat, PHILOMENA
Thomas Newman, SAVING MR. BANKS

john-williams-book-thiefBummed that my favorite score of the year, BEFORE MIDNIGHT, didn’t make the cut -- though I guess I’m biased. No Hans Zimmer for 12 YEARS A SLAVE is legit surprising, but maybe the Academy also thought it sounded too much like INCEPTION (which it occasionally does). To be honest, while this was a great year for movies, it wasn’t a particularly memorable year for original scores for me. But there’s some good stuff here. I enjoyed Arcade Fire’s HER soundtrack and I’m not even an Arcade Fire fan. But it definitely fit that world. Desplat churns out good stuff year after year. Unfortunately for Thomas Newman, the most memorable music in SAVING MR. BANKS movie are obviously the MARY POPPINS numbers. John Williams’ work in THE BOOK THIEF is not among his greatest work but it would still give me unspeakable pleasure to see him win again  -- by God, it’s been a while. I’ll be rooting for him by default, but I think Steven Price’s appropriately epic GRAVITY score wins it.


“Alone Yet Not Alone,” ALONE YET NOT ALONE
“Let It Go,” FROZEN
“The Moon Song,” HER

frozen2Here’s the category where we have the biggest “WTF?!” nominee of the year. ALONE YET NOT ALONE is apparently a Christian movie that opened in super-limited release targeted towards its specific demographic last September. The trailer is, uh, interesting to say the least, and it probably doesn’t hurt that the song was written by an apparent former Academy Governor. Can’t believe I need to watch this crap to complete my goal of seeing every nominated film in every category; it’s a dirty job but somebody’s gotta do it. Meanwhile, if “Let It Go” from FROZEN doesn’t win this award, it would be an absolute travesty. Fucking U2 and “Ordinary Love” won the Globe but hopefully the Academy will have more sense. “The Moon Song” from HER is also lovely and would not make me sad if it won. And I couldn’t hum one note from the DESPICABLE ME 2 song if you put a gun to my head.

WILL PROBABLY WIN: “Let It Go” (unless the world has really gone utterly and irreversibly mad)


soundmixingJust for the record, since it’s always confusing (to me): Sound mixing refers to the way various layers of sound effects, dialogue, etc., of a film are blended together for our auditory pleasure. With that in mind, this is a very strong category. Happy to see the action-loaded THE HOBBIT get some love. LLEWYN DAVIS does great things with music to tell its story, but goddamn it deserved more accolades. LONE SURVIVOR is a contender for its epic battle sequence alone. The use of sound is a big part of CAPTAIN PHILLIPS’ intensity, but it’s an even bigger part of GRAVITY’s and I think the latter will win.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Gravity/Hobbit/Llewyn


soundeditingSound editing, meanwhile, is related to sound design, the creation & selection of sound effects, etc. THE HOBBIT, LONE SURVIVOR and CAPTAIN PHILLIPS are all strong and I guess this is ALL IS LOST’s pity nomination -- though considering the film is mostly dialogue-free and relies heavily on visuals and sound (along with Redford’s grizzled screen presence) to tell its story, it would not be undeserving. But again, I think GRAVITY dominates this area and rightly so.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Gravity/Hobbit


gravity2People, THE LONE RANGER has the same number of Oscar nominations as INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS. That is just a travesty on so many levels. If any Academy members saw THE HOBBIT in HFR 3D, it could generate some votes -- in particular, Smaug is one of the best CG creations ever. IRON MAN 3 and STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS have some good effects, I guess, but nothing we haven’t seen before. GRAVITY, on the other hand, is a groundbreaking visual feast, mixing CGI and practical effects quite seamlessly if I’m not mistaken, and has this one in the bag. (The only film that could’ve maybe given it a run for its money, both in my heart and in reality, is PACIFIC RIM, but alas, no love for del Toro’s monsters vs. robots extravaganza.)



the-act-of-killingSo, so sad that Sarah Polley’s phenomenal STORIES WE TELL (my #7 film of the year) did not make the cut here. Come on, Academy! Regardless, I did pretty well in this category for a change, having seen two of these on the big screen and two more on Netflix (20 FEET FROM STARDOM is the only one I must seek out). CUTIE AND THE BOXER is a lovely and whimsical and feel-good tale of two old Japanese artists. DIRTY WARS is quite an eye-opening look behind the U.S. military curtain that plays like a mystery novel. THE SQUARE offers a gripping, firsthand look at the Egyptian Revolution. THE ACT OF KILLING... God almighty... this film about Indonesian death squads must be seen and then can never be unseen. However, I think the Academy will go the feel-good route, as it did last year when SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN beat out some much heavier material.

I’M ROOTING FOR: The Act of Killing
WILL PROBABLY WIN: Cutie and the Boxer

(Note that full reviews, picks and predictions for the Oscar-nominated live action, animated and documentary short films will be coming soon. They open at the IFC Center in NYC on Jan. 31st and as usual, I intend to see them all in one day-long marathon. Stay tuned for that!)

Oscar Night is Sunday, March 2nd, and as always, I will be right here with my 9th ANNUAL LIVE MOMENT-BY-MOMENT STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS OSCAR COMMENTARY. Please do swing by and join the fun whether you are watching the big show or not. In the meantime, any thoughts on this year’s noms, snubs and/or my predictions? Who do YOU want to / think will win Oscar gold? God, I love this time of year!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Ben’s 2013 Movies By the Numbers

First and foremost, I want to thank those of you who made it through my epic Top 10 of 2013 / Year in Review. I know I rattled off a lot of titles but hopefully your Netflix queues are nice and juicy. Now with that out of the way, we can move on to one of my favorite parts of the end-of-year roundup, where we dip into my archives, crunch the numbers and explore the ins-and-outs of my 2013 movie-going experience. Why? Because this is the kind of shit I do.

All told, I went to the movies 209 times in 2013 -- by far a new personal record, obliterating 2012’s record of 175. This includes 205 different movies, as I saw LES MISERABLES, BEFORE MIDNIGHT, MAN OF STEEL and JURASSIC PARK 3D twice each. This also includes 183 official 2013 releases and 22 movies from previous years. Additionally, this marks the 13th consecutive year in which I saw 100+ movies on the big screen -- though I guess that milestone is not so significant now that I've cracked the big two-oh-oh for the first time.

Wanna see the complete list of movies I saw in 2013? Sure you do.

Yes, I am a madman. Here's how it all went down:



• January: 10 (9 in 2012)
• February: 17 (17)
• March: 21 (15)
• April: 19 (12)
• May: 15 (12)
• June: 16 (14)
• July: 22 (12)
• August: 19 (15)
• September: 16 (17)
• October: 20 (14)
• November: 16 (15)
• December: 18 (23)

IMG_20130110_182447Believe it or not, I didn't see my first movie of the year until January 10th (an advance screening of WARM BODIES at the Regal E-Walk Theatre), but I still finished the month ahead of 2012’s pace and never looked back. My big February was mostly the result of Oscar catch-up. (In fact, with a screening the documentary CHASING ICE on Feb. 20th, I completed a personal goal of having seen EVERY Oscar nominee in EVERY category for the first time ever.) Then came March, when I somehow saw 21 movies, an obscene number usually reserved for the summer or end-of-year rush. Looking at my 2013 movie list, I'm not even sure how it happened -- a few titles jump out, like SPRING BREAKERS and special screenings of THE SHINING and GOODFELLAS -- but generally it looks like I was just going to the movies for the sake of going to the movies, particularly at the IFC Center (not that there's anything wrong with that). The April numbers are padded by my epic five-movie day at the Tribeca Film Festival, and the spring/summer months were characteristically huge, despite the fact that I was on a beach in Punta Cana for five lovely days in June. I was at the movies almost constantly in July, which is particularly impressive when IMG_20130515_181147you consider that I was wrapped up in All-Star madness at Citi Field that month. I saw my 100th movie of the year (BYZANTIUM at the IFC Center) on July 2nd, a month and a half ahead of 2012’s pace, pretty much assuring that this would be a record-breaking year.

The fall chugged along nicely, including a big October where I cracked the 20-movies-in-a-month mark once again (I also saw three of my top 10 movies that month -- GRAVITY, 12 YEARS A SLAVE and BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR). My record-breaking 176th movie occurred on November 1st (ENDER'S GAME at Loews Lincoln Square) and heretofore unfathomable 200-mark became a foregone conclusion. December actually turned out to be a busy month in non-movie areas of life, so I didn't go quite as crazy as 2012 (that December’s total of 23 still stands as a personal record for a single month) -- but it was still rife with quality, including three more additions to the top 10 (INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, HER and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET). I saw my magical 200th movie on Dec. 20th (ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES at the Ziegfeld). My annual Christmas Night Movie tradition continued with THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY at the Magic Johnson Harlem theatre. And I saw my 209th and final movie of the year (GRUDGE MATCH, also in Harlem) on December 31st, mere hours before the ball dropped. Whew!



• Full price admissions: 23
• Free/advance screenings: 26
• MoviePass: 116
• IFC Center member discount: 20
• Free passes/awards programs/gift cards/etc.: 17
• Free Film Festival Screenings: 7

Very telling statistics here, which once again answer the age-old question, "Ben, you crazy son of a bitch, how are you able to see so many movies in NYC where tix are $14 or more?!" Clearly, my first full year of using MoviePass has paid ridiculous dividends. I saw 116 via the service, which, at $29.99/month, averages to about $3.10 per movie. That, my friends, is not too shabby.

moviepassThings got interesting in October, though, when MoviePass made a shady, fiendish attempt to curb such gratuitous use of their service: They sent out an e-mail in which they announced an "exciting new Countdown Clock feature!" -- the purpose of which, we quickly learned, was to limit users to one movie every 24 hours, as opposed to once per calendar day. On one hand, this is understandable -- we know that, at the core, it’s a shaky business plan and we all want them to stay afloat. But on the other hand, the way they went about making the announcement and rolling out the “feature” was pretty shady. Honesty would’ve been better, especially after so many loyal apostles (myself included) have been singing their praises and getting friends to sign up since day one. To this day, they have never owned up to what turned out to be an awful customer service folly.

But whatever -- slightly limited MoviePass is better than no MoviePass at all, and despite their best efforts, my movie-going could not be tempered. In the end, my full-price, out-of-pocket admissions were lowered by nearly half (down from 52 in 2012). MoviePass really has become an integral part of my life and if they ever go out of business, I will be up shit's creek! If you are even a casual moviegoer, I highly recommend signing up and supporting them while also helping yourself. It's financially worthwhile if you see 3 or 4 movies per month... but you will probably end up seeing more and expanding your movie horizons just because you can. If anyone wants an invite, just say the word!

frozenMeanwhile, another way that MoviePass has affected my movie-going is that I don't see nearly as many free advance screenings anymore. No need to wait in line for an hour when I can just see it anytime with MoviePass. However, I still attended 26 of these screenings because sometimes it's fun to see stuff early. Not to mention the occasional red carpet premiere, celebrity appearance, post-screening open bar, etc.

I also still stock up on AMC Gold/Silver passes whenever I can -- they come in handy for double-features and negating the surcharges for my occasional 3D/IMAX/HFR screenings. Seeing so many movies also allows the rewards points to roll in -- I'd love to see the leaderboards for AMC Stubs and Regal Crown Club because I must be way up there! And of course, my IFC Center membership allows discounted tix if I need to pay out of pocket (again, handy for double-features, where I can see one movie with MoviePass and another at IFC for cheap).

Point being, there are ways to skirt around the high ticket prices -- and between these various means, along with the sheer quality I enjoyed from week to week, I think my movie-going life got pretty close to nirvana in 2013.



• Monday: 31 (10 in 2012)
• Tuesday: 25 (25)
• Wednesday: 28 (27)
• Thursday: 25 (28)
• Friday: 63 (50)
• Saturday: 23 (28)
• Sunday: 14 (7)

The biggest surprise here is the influx of Monday movies compared to 2012. That's a huge jump! I think the main reason is that because of the nature of MoviePass, I couldn’t see EVERY movie over the weekend and would often save one for Monday. Also worth noting that I saw relatively few Saturday/Sunday movies -- maybe I was busy doing other things and, like, interacting with people? Who can say! Friday, of course, was the biggest movie day of the week -- I actually went to the movies on 44 of the year's 52 Fridays. What was I doing on the remaining eight Fridays, you ask? The answers are: Nothing, drinks, date, visiting friends, birthday party, visiting family, Broadway show, date. Fascinating!



• IFC Center: 43
• Loews Lincoln Square: 34
• AMC Empire: 24
• Regal E-Walk: 23
• Loews 34th Street: 15
• Ziegfeld Theatre: 11
• Angelika Film Center: 9
• Landmark Sunshine: 7
• Bow Tie Chelsea: 5
• Loews Village 7: 5
• Magic Johnson Harlem: 5
• Regal Union Square: 5
• Lincoln Plaza: 4
• Walter Reade Theatre: 4
• BAM Harvey Theatre: 2
• Cinema Village: 2
• Munroe Film Center: 2
• Paris Theatre: 2
• United Palace: 2
• Film Forum: 1
• Loews Kips Bay: 1
• Magno Screening Room: 1
• Quad Cinema: 1
• Regal Hadley Center (NJ): 1

IMG_20131025_175407Well, here we have some very interesting developments. For the first time in many years, my most-visited theatre was NOT Lincoln Square (my personal favorite theatre) or the AMC Empire (the closest theatre to my office)! Thanks to my status as a card-carrying member, which spurred me to keep extra-close tabs on hot new indies, obscure titles, special events, repertory programming, etc., the IFC Center has become my #1 home away from home. And it wasn't even close! Of course, the IFC Center is a wonderful theatre and NYC's best art house, where I saw films ranging from the magnificent (BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR) to the icky (ANTIVIRAL) to the all-time favorite (SPACEBALLS) in 2013.

IMG_20130215_191632Still, 34 movies at good ol’ Lincoln Square is nothing to sneeze at, and that includes such noteworthy titles as INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, HER and THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE -- the latter on the big "Loews" screen, my favorite standard auditorium in the city). This multiplex is also home to NYC's only REAL IMAX screen -- I managed to see JURASSIC PARK 3D, MAN OF STEEL, PACIFIC RIM and GRAVITY on this 80' x 100' behemoth and all were awesome experiences. Meanwhile, the AMC Empire, Regal E-Walk and Loews 34th Street are all within a few blocks of my office and I love rolling out the door and catching those 5:40/6:00 shows, hence the combined 62 movies (including 12 YEARS A SLAVE, AMERICAN HUSTLE and THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG) at those three theatres.

IMG_20130703_151405I am happy that I made it to the Ziegfeld theatre 11 times. Even though ownership was recently transferred from Clearview to Bow Tie Cinemas, the old girl still needs all the help it can get! Seriously, NYC folks, if a movie is playing at the Ziegfeld, you should see it there. You're paying $14 anyway, so you might as well spend it at one of NYC's most glorious movie palaces that dates back to cinema's Golden Age! It's the kind of theatre that can make any movie worthwhile simply because of your surroundings (even if it's awful, like THE LONE RANGER). Or it can make a great movie transcendent (like THE WOLF OF WALL STREET). Or it can turn a thematically-fitting movie like THE GREAT GATSBY into an all-around perfect movie-going experience.

Elsewhere in my movie-going travels: I used to hate going to the Angelika because it is dumpy and poorly-located right above some subway tracks, but MoviePass has made it more bearable (not to mention some good titles, like STORIES WE TELL). I still made it to the Landmark Sunshine in the East Village and Lincoln Plaza on the Upper West Side even though they don't accept Discover cards (thus, no MoviePass), so those admissions were all out-of-pocket. The combined 10 films at the Chelsea and IMG_20130830_150900Village 7 cinemas is a bit misleading because most of those were film festival screenings -- normally I would not frequent those unremarkable and out-of-the-way theatres as much. Would love to see more movies at the excellent Walter Reade Theatre in 2014 -- only four just isn't gonna cut it (even if one of them was SHORT TERM 12). Five movies at Regal Union Square is a surprise... one of them was a free screening (THE HANGOVER PART III) buy beyond that, who knows what set of circumstances got me down there so many times. The Magic Johnson Harlem got a boost this year thanks to a pact I had with my good friends Jess & Joe to see the various Stallone/Schwarzenegger movies (BULLET TO THE HEAD, THE LAST STAND, ESCAPE PLAN) together thereIMG_20130220_204337. Will probably make it to the Cinema Village more often in 2014, now that I am a member of the Museum of the Moving Image and can get a discount. The BAM Harvey was my only venture to the outer boroughs -- I saw THE GODFATHER 1 & 2 double-feature at Brooklyn's grandest theatre. One trip to the Film Forum is pathetic (even if it was T2: JUDGMENT DAY) -- need to get there more often, particularly for repertory screenings. I usually end up schlepping to Loews Kips Bay once for some reason; this year it was for a screening of DESPICABLE ME 2 (fortunately, that was my only venture to the cinema wasteland that is Midtown East and the Upper East Side!). Need to hit the Paris Theatre more often in 2014, too, but twice is better than nothing. I saw A ROYAL AFFAIR at the Quad Cinema -- my first time at that Village art house since the early '00s. Only one movie at my old stomping grounds, the Regal Hadley Center in South Plainfield, NJ, with unitedpalacemy friend Jill? Need to improve on that, too. We can also expect more visits to the glorious United Palace on 175th Street in Washington Heights. This amazing theatre has reopened its doors to film for the first time since the '60s and screened CASBALANCA and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE towards the end of the year -- I now eagerly await a series of monthly screenings throughout 2014! The former Loews Wonder Theatre of the Golden Age is one of the city's greatest gems and well worth the trek to upper Manhattan... just FYI.



IMG_20130621_182444I'm actually surprised that I saw 28 double-features in 2013, far more than 2012, considering the MoviePass situation. But what usually happens is that I see one with MoviePass and then either pay full price for the other or (more frequently) some other discounted method. It all works out in the end. As usual, most of these double-features were random pairings as a result of showtime convenience but there are two that were pieced together by design -- in particular, one because of the stars of the films and one because of the wordplay of the titles. Can you pick 'em out?


I also saw one triple-feature, which allowed me to escape from one of the hottest summer days of the year: ONLY GOD FORGIVES and BLACKFISH and THE CONJURING.

IMG_20130424_123413And my first-ever QUINTUPLE FEATURE, at the Tribeca Film Festival: ALMOST CHRISTMAS and A BIRDER'S GUIDE TO EVERYTHING and BEFORE MIDNIGHT and MR. JONES and BIG JOY.

And there was my annual, butt-numbing marathon of the Oscar-nominated Documentary, Live-Action and Animated Short Films -- one of my favorite movie-going traditions of the year....

And perhaps most impressive of all, there was my epic, eight hour, overnight viewing of Christian Marclay’s THE CLOCK at the Museum of Modern Art, one of the greatest and most transcendent cinematic experiences of my life. For more about this amazing project (which will hopefully return to NYC someday), click here. And for my personal review, click here!

bourdainAs usual, my movie-going adventures occasionally got me within close proximity to some familiar faces. One of the coolest was a special screening of GOODFELLAS at the IFC Center, hosted by none other than Anthony Bourdain as part of their Modern School of Film series. He who talked about his love of the movie, food, and food within the movie and it was awesome. Francois Ozon was on hand for a Q&A following his film IN THE HOUSE at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema program at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. I only attended one red carpet premiere -- LAST VEGAS -- not a great movie, but it was at the Ziegfeld, which is always a pleasure (plus, I caught a glimpse of Michael Douglas and had a close encounter with Romany Malco). I expected to see a few familiar faces at the audreyTribeca Film Festival, but the only one I recognized was was the co-writer A BIRDER'S GUIDE TO EVERYTHING, who happened to be the weird-looking guy who directed the Oscar-winning short film GOD OF LOVE a few years ago. Random.

However, there were two celebrity encounters that tower above the others. First and foremost, I got to see my love, Amelie Poulain herself, Audrey Tautou, at the IFC Center for the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema screening of her movie THERESE. I gawked at bencruiseher from the third row with a huge smile on my face -- she is somehow even more adorable in person. It was awesome. I also attended an advance screening of OBLIVION at Loews 34th Street that featured an live Q&A by Tom Cruise. To everyone's surprise, he stuck around afterward and signed autographs and took pictures with anyone & everyone who wanted one -- the dude may be a wacko, but he's a damn nice guy!

Out of the 209 movies I saw in 2013, a grand total of 172 of them by myself. I'm a loner, Dottie... a rebel. But hey, it's cool. I love going to the movies by myself because it allows me to fully immerse myself in the experience, whether it's the crappiest comedy or the deepest drama. (Plus, even if you get to a Friday night blockbuster just before showtime, it's always easier to find one choice seat in the middle of a row where some assholes didn't move in all the way.) That said, I still managed to socialize IMG_20130625_185058every now and then. Kudos to Jess & Joe (with whom I saw eight movies!) & Jill & Ryan & Justine & Suzanne & Lani & Amy & Dara & Jason & George & Katie & Andrea & Isaac & Romona & Nokes & Laurel! And an extra special thanks to Lauren for being my most-frequent movie companion with an impressive TEN, including such noteworthy titles as GRAVITY and MAN OF STEEL (in IMAX), THE GREAT GATSBY (in prime mezzanine seats at the Ziegfeld) and IRON MAN 3 -- the latter of which, I might add, was her first-ever NYC movie experience. I'm honored to have been a part of that. :)

Now, I'm not even going to try to predict what the coming year will bring. Maybe I'll see 250 movies. Or maybe I'll cut back to a less insane number. Maybe I'll even start writing more! Whatever the case, in terms of quantity AND quality, 2013 was one of the greatest movie-watching years of all time and 2014 has some big cinematic shoes to fill. But I, for one, can't wait to see what happens.

See you at the movies!

P.S. For the record, I also watched 113 movies via Netflix and 102 more via miscellaneous means (my own library, TV, etc.). So that’s 424 total movies watched in 2013. Have I mentioned that I like movies?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Ben’s Top 10 Movies of 2013 + Year in Review


Happy New Year, gang! Well, another movie year is in the books and man, it was a doozy. I went to the movies an astonishing 209 times in 2013 -- by far a new record that elevates my obsession passion to preposterous levels. Fortunately, it was mostly time well spent: There was tremendous quality to be found from week to week, across the board, in all genres, from multiplex to art house, from filmmakers old and new. Yes, it was a great year for cinema -- and now, after much consideration, soul-searching and the occasional Sophie’s choice, here is my crème de la crème....

short_term_twelve_xlg10. SHORT TERM 12 -- There were several titles vying for this spot but I keep coming back to this one -- a lovely film about a group of twentysomethings who work with at-risk kids while also dealing with their own complex lives. Written & directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, the film is impeccably crafted on every level, unfolding slowly but surely and exuding authenticity as it introduces a motley crew of personalities and reveals harsh truths and unending optimism. Brie Larson’s understated but multifaceted performance is a revelation and one of the best of the year -- the film may be too under-the-radar to generate serious Oscar buzz, but she deserves it. SHORT TERM 12 is an honest and resonant film, filled with both laughs and tears, and should be added to everyone's queues immediately.

frozen_xlg9. FROZEN -- Amazingly, in all the years I've been compiling these lists (since the late '90s), Walt Disney Animation has never made my Top 10. But FROZEN isn't just a return to form for the Mouse -- it’s a veritable return to the transcendence of the Golden Age. I loved THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG and TANGLED (not to mention ENCHANTED), but they finally, really nailed the pitch-perfect balance of classic and modern style and sensibility. With themes of sisterhood, friendship and self-discovery, Anna and Elsa's respective journeys are funny, smart and tug on all the right heartstrings. The film has fun with Disney clichés and features amazing animation (even though it is CGI, it somehow feels hand-drawn), memorable characters (Olaf!) and a truly great soundtrack that may eventually rank among Disney’s best and catchiest. Of all the movies on this list, including this one gives me the most pleasure!

twelve_years_a_slave_xlg8. 12 YEARS A SLAVE -- The story of Solomon Northup, a free northern black man in the 1800s who is kidnapped, brought to the south and enslaved for twelve years, is a meticulous, staggering, devastating portrait of our nation’s darkest time. Starkly directed by Steve McQueen, who is no stranger to creating palpable environments (see also: HUNGER and SHAME) this film pulls no punches -- before all is said and done, you will have gone from cringing to crying to exulting and back again many times over, sometimes within the same scene. Certain images and situations will stay with you long after the credits roll. Unbelievable performances across the board, but Chiwetel Ejiofor is majestic and Michael Fassbender presents one of the most heinous portrayals of evil of all time. An extraordinary, overwhelming, challenging film that should be required viewing for all.

stories_we_tell_xlg7. STORIES WE TELL -- I’ve always enjoyed Sarah Polley as an actress, but with films like AWAY FROM HER and TAKE THIS WALTZ under her belt, she has proven to be a formidable director, too. In this documentary, Polley explores the skeletons in her family’s closet, which is interesting in itself. But as the layers are peeled away, details are sifted and mysteries are revealed, we find that the film is really about memory, truth, perception and the very nature of storytelling. The result is a riveting, revelatory, moving and at times exhilarating experience that must be seen to fully understand what the heck I’m raving about. For whatever reason, it’s been a while since I’ve had a documentary in my Top 10 (ten years, to be exact) but this one transcends the format in most unexpected ways.

wolf_of_wall_street_ver2_xlg6. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET -- Martin Scorsese once again proves that he is the master of his domain with this scathing, wildly entertaining and jaw-dropping look at the madness and excesses of Wall Street. Leonardo DiCaprio gives the most incredible, physical, over-the-top performance of his career as Jordan Belfort, a despicable, irredeemable louse who lies, cheats and snorts coke out of hookers’ assholes on the way to ridiculous fortune with minimal consequences. (Seriously, the Lemmons scene had better be his Oscar clip.) Everything is on point: direction, acting (Jonah Hill is also unreal), script, editing, soundtrack... it’s a perfect storm of cinematic hedonism... immersive, vile, and hilarious in spite of itself. It might make you lose faith in humanity but you’ll have a blast in the process. This is Scorsese at his engaged and exuberant best and would make one hell of a triple-feature with GOODFELLAS and CASINO -- yes, it’s THAT good.

blueisthewarmestcolor5. BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR -- One of the most honest, raw and passionate films of the year, this three-hour, French, NC-17-rated, Palm d’Or-winning lesbian coming-of-age romance earns all of its accolades and controversy. Director Abdel Kechiche immerses us into the story of young Adele (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and blue-haired Emma (Lea Seydoux) and intimately captures the exhilaration of first love, the intensity of sexual discovery, the complexities of adult relationships, the devastation of heartbreak and all points in between. The two lead performances are brilliant and utterly fearless; indeed, the much-heralded sex scenes are long and graphic but somehow don’t feel gratuitous -- a testament to the film’s power and the unbridled emotion that it both displays and evokes. It’s a true work of cinematic art. (And if you’re not craving spaghetti bolognaise immediately afterward, there’s something wrong with you.)

gravity_xlg4. GRAVITY -- I don’t like paying for IMAX 3D if I can help it because it costs over $20 in NYC and few films are worth that much money out of pocket. But I would have paid twice as much to see one of the most harrowing, breathtaking movie-watching spectacles in recent memory. Director (and reigning master of the long-take) Alfonso Cuaron takes his skills to a new level and somehow gets us as close to the infinite vastness of outer space as we will likely ever be. It’s a perfect storm of fine acting (easily the best work of Sandra Bullock's career and George Clooney is, of course, a man among men), precision filmmaking and groundbreaking visuals to complement a refreshingly simple, human story with a soulfulness that you don’t often find in big, effects-laden blockbusters. A true cinematic thrill ride with a heart of gold -- and unlike anything we’ve ever seen on the big screen before.

her_xlg3. HER -- Spike Jonze is at the top of his game with this wholly original vision of a lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) who, while attempting to get over his failed marriage, develops an intense relationship with his computer operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). This is the kind of story that could have easily been mined for laughs or with uber-twee sensibilities, but Jonze plays it straight and the result is an wonderfully realized, expertly detailed and eerily prescient vision of the future. But at the same time, the highs and lows of this bizarre relationship are all too familiar and timeless. Beautifully acted across the board: Phoenix is quickly becoming one of the best in the business, ScarJo’s voice is luminescent and Amy Adams is at her all-time cutest, while Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde and Chris Pratt, among others, lend their worthwhile presences. A wildly creative, unpretentious and deeply affecting film on many personal and universal levels and a triumph for Jonze -- easily his best film not written by Charlie Kaufman (and maybe just as good as MALKOVICH and ADAPTATION in its own right).

inside_llewyn_davis_ver22. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS -- A young folk singer (perfectly realized by Oscar Isaac) struggles, musically and spiritually, amidst the burgeoning backdrop of early ‘60s Greenwich Village in the Coen Bros.’ latest triumph. It’s a film that should resonate with anyone who has tried and failed (and maybe never had a chance). It is deceptively simple yet mind-bendingly complex, desperately melancholy, bleak yet romantic, strangely philosophical and loaded with the Coens’ unmistakable brand of dialogue, humor, situations, characters and relationships. It generates thoughts and emotions (not all of them pleasant) that will likely require several viewings to fully process. Plus, the soundtrack is outstanding. The Coens have been on a recent streak of genius that is impressive even by their lofty standards (see also: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, A SERIOUS MAN, TRUE GRIT) but this may be the richest of the bunch.

...and finally...

before_midnight_ver2_xlg1. BEFORE MIDNIGHT -- BEFORE SUNRISE and BEFORE SUNSET are two of the great cinematic loves of my life, so to say that this third installment was one of my most anticipated movies of the year would be an understatement. Miraculously, it lives up to the hype and then some. Nine more years have passed and Jesse and Celine are still together, but... well, it’s trickier now. If the first film was about falling in love and the second film was about rediscovering love, this film is about STAYING in love... and as many of us can surely attest, that’s the hard part. Their chemistry is still undeniable, and they still walk around and talk better than anybody ever, but due to the nature of their relationship, there’s a bit more bubbling under the surface than there was in Vienna and Paris. To say any more would be a disservice, but suffice to say, Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy manage to not only continue one of cinema’s all-time greatest romances but add even more depth and emotion. All in all, it completes one of the finest trilogies ever forged -- at least until 2022 when it will hopefully become a quadrilogy -- and for my money, the best movie of 2013.


Other Noteworthy Titles (in alphabetical order):

About Time. The Act of Killing. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. American Hustle. The Angels’ Share. Blackfish. Blue Caprice. Blue Jasmine. Brave Miss World. Captain Phillips. Concussion. Dallas Buyers Club. Don Jon. Drinking Buddies. Enough Said. Escape From Tomorrow. Frances Ha. From Up on Poppy Hill. Fruitvale Station. Gimme the Loot. The Great Beauty. The Great Gatsby. The Hangover Part III. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The Hunt. In a World.... In the House. Kill Your Darlings. The Kings of Summer. Man of Steel. Monsters University. Much Ado About Nothing. Mud. Museum Hours. Nebraska. Oblivion. Pacific Rim. Pain & Gain. The Past. Philomena. Prince Avalanche. Prisoners. Saving Mr. Banks. Side Effects. Sightseers. The Spectacular Now. Spring Breakers. Stoker. Therese. This is Martin Bonner. Upstream Color. Wadjda. The Way, Way Back. What Maisie Knew. The Wind Rises. The Wolverine. The World’s End. You’re Next.


And now... Ben’s Top 10 WORST Films of 2013:

canyons_ver2_xlg10. THE CANYONS -- Were Bret Easton Ellis and Paul Schrader taking the piss when they made this awful, soulless dreck about the death of cinema, or is it just a truly inept debacle? Who knows. At least Lindsay Lohan looks good (well, parts of her, anyway).
9. DIANA -- Naomi Watts acts her heart out, but this biopic about the last two years of Princess Diana’s iconic life is flat, dull, riddled with clichés and more than a little tacky.
8. OLDBOY -- Spike Lee's remake of the classic Korean revenge thriller may be the single most unnecessary remake in the long, sad history of unnecessary remakes. A lifeless rehash that has absolutely nothing to offer.
7. HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS -- How many shitty retellings of beloved fairy tales do we need to endure before Hollywood realizes it’s just not a good idea? Even a surprising amount of gore and nudity can’t save this hot mess.
6. SAFE HAVEN -- Gotta give props to the twist ending, which admittedly had me fooled. Unfortunately, the twist is so bad, M. Night Shyamalan saw it and said, "Now will everyone please get off my back??" The rest of the movie is shite, too.
5. THE LONE RANGER -- Competently made, sure... but so misguided, unfunny, embarrassing, indulgent and borderline offensive, it makes me wonder if Verbinski and Depp actually hate the Lone Ranger franchise and purposely set out to shit all over it. If so, kudos!
4. THE SECRET LIVES OF DORKS -- I hate to rail on a little movie that no one has heard of, but goddamn. The inept script, direction, acting and tiresome “cinematic comic book” gimmick are bad enough, but at this point in our pro-nerd/geek/dork society, there's just zero reason for it to exist.
3. A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD -- Not only is this fifth installment bad, it’s one of the worst installments of ANY popular franchise. Ever. It is practically unwatchable. Everything that made the first DIE HARD great has been swept away and John McClane as we knew him no longer exists. Sad.
2. IDENTITY THIEF -- I like Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman but they are utterly wasted in one of the most wretchedly awful, unfunny comedies in ripd_xlgrecent memory. Nary a laugh nor shred of entertainment value to be found. Shameful.
1. R.I.P.D. -- Just as I knew BEFORE MIDNIGHT and INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS would be among the best movies of the year, I knew that this would be one of the worst. Its very existence is puzzling -- not only is it a blatant MEN IN BLACK rip-off with dead people instead of aliens, but it looks & feels like it was lifted from that same era. But instead of being groundbreaking and smart (as MiB was) or campy (as, say, an Asylum spoof might be), this dreck has been stripped of everything good and fun. I hope Jeff Bridges enjoys the new wing on his house and Ryan Reynolds enjoys direct-to-DVD purgatory. Now let us never speak of this again.


And now...
Some Semi-Stream-of-Consciousness Movie Thoughts!

american_hustle_xlgA Few Titles That Just Missed the Top 10: Since 2013 was such a strong year, there were plenty of movies that would’ve easily made the Top 10 in most other years. In random order, first we have AMERICAN HUSTLE, one of the most purely entertaining cinematic romps of the year -- haters be damned. Sure, it’s fluff… but it’s damn good fluff with a powerhouse ensemble cast. In a year filled with very good coming-of-age films, THE SPECTACULAR NOW is a standout, overflowing with heart and featuring two tremendous performances from Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller. The Age of McConaughey continues with DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, a tremendous film and even better lead performance (but it’s Jared Leto who arguably steals the show, much to Angela Chase’s combined delight and chagrin). THE GREAT BEAUTY is a dizzying assault on the senses and an enthralling reflection on the decadence of life, love and Rome from director Paolo Sorrentino. Woody Allen is in fine form with BLUE JASMINE, which also features a tour-de-force performance from the great Cate Blanchett. ENOUGH SAID is one of the best, funniest and all-around smile-inducing romantic comedies in recent memory thanks to the perfect chemistry between Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and act_of_killing_xlgthe late James Gandolfini. Greta Gerwig is at her absolute best in Noah Baumbach’s FRANCES HA, a lovely, funny film about the frequently-awkward but unending pursuit of happiness in NYC. Alexander Payne is now 6-for-6 as a director after NEBRASKA, a superbly crafted take on smalltown middle America and missed opportunities. The best horror movie of the year is YOU’RE NEXT, which drips with blood & dark humor and turns the home invasion concept on its ear most spectacularly. Last but not the least, there’s THE ACT OF KILLING, a jaw-dropping, unsettling, riveting, infuriating, bizarre, mind-boggling documentary about Indonesian death squads that absolutely must be seen to be believed.

runner_runnerA Few Titles That Just Missed the Bottom 10: Unfortunately, when one sees over 200 movies in a calendar year, one tends to see quite a few turds. Aside from the ten I’ve already mentioned, there’s also RUNNER RUNNER, a dopey thriller about online gambling that nearly cancels out all of Ben Affleck’s ARGO goodwill. THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE makes one wonder what the hell Steve Carell was thinking when he ditched THE OFFICE for a movie career. Starring Russell Crowe, Mark Wahlberg and Catherine Zeta-Jones, BROKEN CITY should have been entertaining but is not. 21 & OVER strives for a “HANGOVER for college kids” vibe but is one of the worst drunken sex comedies in recent memory. I love Aubrey Plaza but she should be embarrassed by THE TO-DO LIST, a wannabe ‘90s period piece that falls completely flat. AFTER EARTH is a sci-fi failure, but we can blame that more on Jaden Smith than M. Night Shyamalan (for a change). THE INTERNSHIP drives another nail into Vince Vaughn’s coffin. Any earthquakes that were felt when GROWN UPS 2 was released were just Chris Farley rolling over in his grave. And as for the much-maligned, hit-or-miss MOVIE 43... well, the misses are pretty awful... but I chuckled enough at the hits to save it from the worst of the worst. 

hangover_part_iii_xlgGuilty Pleasures: Hey, remember THE HANGOVER PART III? That was a movie that happened in 2013. Well, I am on record as a fan of the trilogy-capper (and the trilogy in general), and I think I’m the only one, so I guess that counts as a guilty pleasure. Screw you guys, it’s funny and I love these characters! SPRING BREAKERS is a movie I can watch over and over, but I don’t actually feel guilty about it because it’s so good (“LOOK AT MY SHIT!”). Most geeks worth their salt appreciate PACIFIC RIM, so this is another borderline “guilty” pick, but it will almost certainly become part of my regular background movie rotation -- it is cinematic popcorn fun in its purest form. However, if there’s one single scene from 2013 that could be considered my biggest guilty pleasure, it’s when Rosario Dawson, er, grooms herself in Danny Boyle’s wacky TRANCE -- a moment made even more memorable by the bizarrely loud buzzsaw sound effect that accompanies it. It’s such a “WTF?!” moment that it has embedded itself into my pervy mind. (Also, Rosario Dawson rules.)

hunger_games_catching_fire_xlgPleasant Surprises: I certainly did not expect THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE to be so awesome and probably the best franchise blockbuster of the year. This is particularly impressive considering I didn’t love the first movie, nor did I love the CATCHING FIRE book. But everything in the film, from the handling of the story to the cast/acting to the action, is totally on point and Jennifer Lawrence is a goddess of badassery. Meanwhile, THE WOLVERINE overcomes the previous lame “origins” installment and is highly entertaining; Hugh Jackman has to be considered one the most iconic superhero depictions of all time (plus, the credit stinger / DAYS OF FUTURE PAST teaser caused pandemonium at my screening). In a year that saw not one but THREE White House-under-siege films, OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN is by far the best and puts Gerard Butler back on the badass map (WHITE HOUSE DOWN and G.I. JOE: RETALIATION were the others). With its great cast and atmosphere, THE CONJURING provided some legit mainstream scares in our first SAW/PARANORMAL ACTIVITY-less year in what seems like forever. And while I didn’t have much hope for LONE SURVIVOR based on the cheesy, jingoistic trailers, it turned out to be a solid, respectful military procedural with a strong ensemble cast and harrowing, true-to-life action.

anchorman_two_xlgDisappointments: Sigh... it pains me to say it, but ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES is a huge letdown. Granted, it’s probably my own fault for having such high expectations in the first place... but it isn’t even in the same stratosphere as the original. Most jokes are rehashed and/or overdone and fall flat. (Who knew that too much Brick Tamland and an even bigger news team rumble would be bad things?) Plus it is distressingly unquotable. It’s a damn shame. Meanwhile, as a fan of BLUE VALENTINE, Derek Cianfrance’s THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES turned out to be an overwrought mess. Similarly, ONLY GOD FORGIVES feels more like Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling are spoofing themselves than anything else -- a sad letdown after the greatness of DRIVE. Speaking of Gosling, the stylish GANGSTER SQUAD had potential but failed to capitalize on his smoldering chemistry with Emma Stone. THE BLING RING is a bit of a letdown after Sofia Coppola’s prior greatness, though it is noteworthy for Emma Watson’s performance. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS and KICK-ASS 2 were both disappointments after the great first installments. THE COUNSELOR somehow didn’t work despite being directed by Ridley Scott, written by Cormac McCarthy and starring Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Cameron Diaz. And I’m not even going to count A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD in this section because, really, did anyone expect it to be good?

drinking_buddies_xlgUnderrated: There actually weren’t many movies that fit this description, at least when it comes to my opinion vs. the general public’s. I mean, I loved divisive films like THE HANGOVER PART III and MAN OF STEEL but there are certainly valid criticisms to be made. I do think the backlash against great films like THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, AMERICAN HUSTLE and CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is utterly misguided and proof that people will complain about anything. But as far as great movies that may have flown under the general public’s radar: I haven’t heard much about DRINKING BUDDIES, a wonderful, beer-soaked comedy about love & friendship, and further evidence that Olivia Wilde is a perfect specimen (Anna Kendrick rules, too). The few people I know who have seen Lake Bell’s directorial debut IN A WORLD… have loved it, and rightly so. More people should see it. Paul Rudd and Emilie Hirsch are fantastic in David Gordon Green’s offbeat, thoughtful buddy picture, PRINCE AVALANCHE. And as a LOVE ACTUALLY fan, I was sorry that ABOUT TIME came and went so quickly -- Richard Curtis’ time-travel rom-com is imperfect, but funny and sincere and right up my sappy alley.

rush_xlgOverrated: Similarly, there weren’t many movies that I disliked that got widespread praise. That said, I didn’t much much care for RUSH, which is 89% fresh on RottenTomatoes and actually generated some Oscar buzz when it was released. It is slick and generally well-acted, but I couldn’t get past all the clunky dialogue and the fact that I don’t give two shits about car racing. Terrence Malick made a really great-looking perfume commercial with TO THE WONDER, arguably his most Malicky film yet (in a bad way), yet I’ve actually seen it on some Top 10 lists, which is baffling. I also don’t appear to have loved THIS IS THE END as much as most people, but maybe I was in a bad mood that day? I’ll give it another shot eventually.

hobbit_the_desolation_of_smaug_ver15_xlgHobbits and Dwarves and Dragons, Oh My: I should talk a bit about THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG because, well, I love it unconditionally. It’s another glorious journey into Peter Jackson's vision of Middle-earth -- and at this point, it really is PJ’s vision, as opposed to Tolkien. Jackson is bordering closely into the realm of fan fiction with some of the stuff he’s giving us here, but somehow, because this world is so immersive and comfortable and feels like a second cinematic home, it works. For example, on paper, I could have done without the gratuitous Legolas subplot. We know from Tolkien lore that Legolas would have been in Mirkwood at this time, but a brief cameo would have sufficed. That being said... Legolas still kicks ass... so, hey, why not. All in all, SMAUG is a legit improvement over the first installment because all of the long-winded intros are gone and we get right to the action. The film has a fun, episodic feel, almost like an old-time serial. The 48fps high-frame rate lends itself nicely to the CGI-heavy but visually amazing experience (Smaug himself is a digital miracle). It's a hugely satisfying Middle-earth fix and I can’t wait for the grand finale in December. After that, I hope Jackson comes back and makes THE SILMARILLION, and Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales, and, and, and....

The-Wind-Rises3Animation Conversation: Overall, it was a good but not great year for animated fare (with the exception of FROZEN, which, as we’ve discussed, brought Walt Disney Animation back to the Golden Age). THE WIND RISES may not quite live up to Hayao Miyazaki’s previous masterpieces, but it is still lovely and a worthy swan song for the Japanese master. Another Studio Ghibli film, FROM UP ON POPPY HILL, is also very solid. I’m getting a little tired of Pixar’s sequel-happy streak, but MONSTERS UNIVERSITY actually works quite well -- of course, it helps if you just unabashedly love Mike and Sully, as I do. THE CROODS is a nice piece of work thanks to some offbeat humor and one of Nic Cage’s wackier performances in a while. DESPICABLE ME 2 improves on the original, though seeing it at an advance screening in a theatre full of kids helped -- their collective love of the Minions is infectious! At the bottom of the barrel, EPIC is bland bland bland, and I didn’t even bother seeing such titles as TURBO, PLANES, FREEBIRDS and (God help us) SMURFS 2.

In-The-HouseForeign Cinema: Much to my shame, I did not see many foreign films in 2013 and will probably have a lot of work to do when the Oscar nominations are announced. Fortunately, the ones I did see were quite good. Of course, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR leads the pack, closely followed by THE GREAT BEAUTY. With its many layers and complexities, A SEPARATION director Asghar Farhadi proves that he is the master of the domestic drama with THE PAST. I really loved Francois Ozon’s IN THE HOUSE, a brilliant, twisty-turny ode to the creative process. WADJDA is significant because it’s the first film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia AND the first by a female Saudi director -- plus it is a wondrous story about the power of the human spirit. Mads Mikkelsen is incredible in the unsettling, thought-provoking THE HUNT. My love, Audrey Tautou, gives one of her finest dramatic performances in the darkly methodical THERESE. And hey, we got a new Almodovar film this year, too -- I’M SO EXCITED! is not his best work, but still worth a watch. 

blackfishDocumentary Delight: I did a little better in the documentary department. We’ve already talked about the brilliance of STORIES WE TELL and THE ACT OF KILLING, both of which need to be seen ASAP. I have never been to Sea World, and BLACKFISH assured that I never will -- a stunning, infuriating film that will make you weep for our orca brethren. LEVIATHAN delves into the world of deep-sea fishing and takes the documentary format to crazy, visceral places. DIRTY WARS offers an eye-opening look behind the U.S. military curtain, though I could have done without the stagey melodrama. BRAVE MISS WORLD, an empowering story of rape survival, is one of the most important doc of the year and I hope it finds a wider audience. Calvin & Hobbes fans will find great pleasure in the love letter that is DEAR MR. WATTERSON, while fans of THE SHINING should enjoy the preposterous conspiracy theories of ROOM 237. I knew nothing about the crazy ‘70s hippie cult of THE SOURCE FAMILY, but now I do. THE HUMAN SCALE basically informs us that big city-living will destroy human interaction as we know it. Michel Gondry and Noam Chomsky talk about life, the universe and everything with an animated backdrop in IS THE MAN WHO IS TALL HAPPY? Werner Herzog’s voice and a gaggle of Siberian dogs are the real stars of HAPPY PEOPLE: A YEAR IN THE TAIGA. And lastly, innate intrigue and some legit eye-opening revelations help SALINGER rise above some needless sensationalism.

iron_man_three_ver2_xlgBlockbuster Snoozefests: Unfortunately, for every good 2013 blockbuster like GRAVITY, CATCHING FIRE and PACIFIC RIM, there are a bunch of duds. I enjoyed IRON MAN 3 in the moment, but the more I think about it, the more underwhelming it becomes (especially compared to the first IRON MAN and THE AVENGERS). Elsewhere in the Marvel universe, THOR: THE DARK WORLD is solid but so far, Phase 2 has yet to resonate with me. FAST FIVE was surprisingly awesome but the self-indulgent FAST & FURIOUS 6 reverts the series back to shite (with all due respect to the late Paul Walker). I have a soft spot for the bold and brash MAN OF STEEL, but all joking aside, the destructive final act really sticks in my craw. And then there are the real turkeys: I highly doubt they’ll be showing OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL on TNT in 75 years. JACK THE GIANT SLAYER has delusions of grandeur but is highly forgettable. G.I. JOE: RETALIATION would’ve been better if it had just been two kids playing with action figures for 90 minutes. And WORLD WAR Z lands with a resounding “meh” -- keep trying for that tentpole franchise, Brad Pitt.

spectacular_now_xlgComing-of-Age Antics: The biggest movie theme of the year was that of of “excess” (see: THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, THE GREAT GATSBY, PAIN & GAIN, SPRING BREAKERS, THE BLING RING and THE GREAT BEAUTY) but the coming-of-age story was also very well-represented. Leading the pack is the aforementioned THE SPECTACULAR NOW, a wise, sensitive, genuine and heartfelt look at the anxieties of unexpected love and approaching adulthood; I will be following Shailene Woodley’s career with great interest. THE KINGS OF SUMMER is enjoyable in a “PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER meets STAND BY ME” kind of way. Elle Fanning and Alice Englert are fantastic in GINGER & ROSA, a ‘60s political period piece and character study. On the grittier side, MUD is slow-boiling Southern mystery that features two great young performances (plus Matthew McConaughey in top form). A BIRDER’S GUIDE TO EVERYTHING also follows the STAND BY ME mindset, but with the kids looking for a rare bird instead of a dead body. THE WAY, WAY BACK is hilarious and heartwarming and Sam Rockwell gives one of the year’s most memorable and likeable performances; in a perfect world, he’d snag a Best Supporting Actor nod. And on the bizarre end of the spectrum, there’s KID-THING, which feels like something dark & weird crawled out of the NAPOLEON DYNAMITE universe.

this_is_martin_bonner_xlgObscure-ish Indies: As a card-carrying member of the IFC Center, I had the opportunity to see lots of random indies that I may have otherwise not given a second thought. For example: THIS IS MARTIN BONNER, an understated look at human connection & second chances, featuring one of my favorite performances of the year (Paul Eenhorn). Brandon Cronenberg proves that he is a chip off the old block with the icky, interesting ANTIVIRAL. I’ve already mentioned KID-THING, which is worth seeking out. Bronx graffiti artists plot to tag the Home Run Apple at Citi Field (seriously) in GIMME THE LOOT, a colorful slice of NYC life. Michael Cera portrays a magnificent American asshole and Gaby Hoffman is fearless in the drug-addled CRYSTAL FAIRY. Elijah Wood plays a serial killer in the occasionally eye-rolling but atmospheric MANIAC (nasty Hobbitses!). Loved THE ANGELS’ SHARE, a tale of Scottish ne'er-do-wells who find redemption thru whiskey and epic swearing. SOMETHING IN THE AIR is a fine French ‘70s counterculture nostalgia trip starring the lovely Lola Creton. THE WE AND THE I is an interesting urban experiment and worth watching if you’re a Michel Gondry fan. I USED TO BE DARKER is an engaging, low-key and contemplative look at a family in various stages of disarray. BLUE CAPRICE is a quietly chilling, character-driven portrait of evil about the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks. It’s great to see Kathryn Hahn in a lead role for a change in AFTERNOON concussion_xlgDELIGHT, a funny film that takes a dark turn. Also, Jem Cohen’s contemplative MUSEUM HOURS, while not really obscure because it is critically-acclaimed, is an IFC movie that I liked very much. Meanwhile, over at the Angelika, I caught the intense (albeit overly melodramatic) FRUITVALE STATION, as well as a movie called CONCUSSION, the story of a lesbian housewife who gets hit in head, develops a midlife crisis and becomes a prostitute to fulfill new-found desires. I know this description sounds like it could apply to a late-night Cinemax flick, but it’s actually a smart, nuanced, semi-satirical drama that features a commanding lead performance by Robin Weigert. Trust me!

pain_and_gain_ver3_xlgThe Year of... the Rock?!: We know that we are deep into the Age of McConaughey, but also, the Rock had a pretty damn big year. Of course, he is in FAST AND FURIOUS 6 and commands the screen more than Vin Diesel ever could in his wildest dreams. That same screen presence definitely helps G.I. JOE: RETALIATION improve on its predecessor. Preposterous plot aside, SNITCH is slow-boiling and character-driven and allows the People’s Champ to flex his acting chops. But above all, there’s Michael Bay’s PAIN & GAIN, the crazy true story of a bunch of bodybuilders-turned-conmen and the American Dream gone horribly awry, in which the Rock takes his game to a whole other level and utters this now-legendary line: “Jesus Christ himself has blessed me with many gifts -- one of them is knocking someone the fuck out!” Good stuff.

two_mothers_ver2_xlgFortysomething Actresses Showing Off Their Bangin’ Bods: This was another movie trend that I enjoyed in 2013. You have Jennifer Aniston doing a wet strip tease in WE’RE THE MILLERS, an otherwise “meh” comedy. Gwyneth Paltrow dons sexy lingerie in the sex-addiction comedy THANKS FOR SHARING. The Australia-set ADORE, about two best friends who have affairs with each other’s strapping young sons, is trashy but Naomi Watts and Robin Wright are smokin’. Cameron Diaz ensures that we will never look at a catfish the same way again in THE COUNSELOR. Lastly, Kathryn Hahn offers perhaps the most unexpected nudity -- and a graphic sex scene with Josh Radnor, of all people -- in AFTERNOON DELIGHT. Yowzas all around!

(Mean Girls Gone Wild: While we’re on the subject of nudity... I’m just saying... Lindsay Lohan got naked in THE CANYONS, Amanda Seyfried got naked in LOVELACE and Rachel McAdams got naked in TO THE WONDER. Your move, Lacey Chabert!)

escape_plan_xlgHey, Old Timers: A bunch of our favorite old-time actors were in movies in 2013 and they all seemed to intersect. Observe: Sylvester Stallone played a badass New Orleans hitman in BULLET TO THE HEAD. Arnold Schwarzenegger returned to the big screen as a badass sheriff in THE LAST STAND. Then Sly and Arnold joined forces to break out of a maximum security prison in ESCAPE PLAN. Sly later appeared in GRUDGE MATCH with Robert De Niro (the heralded Rocky Balboa vs. Jake LaMotta boxing movie) and Alan Arkin. De Niro also appeared in LAST VEGAS (i.e. THE HANGOVER for the elder set) with Michael Douglas, Kevin Kline and Morgan Freeman, while Arkin appeared in STAND-UP GUYS, another hitman flick, with Al Pacino and Christopher Walken. Long story short... none of these movies are particularly good, but all are worth watching some night on cable because these old fogies have still got the stuff.

spring_breakersScores and Soundtracks: First off, big props to SPRING BREAKERS -- not only do Cliff Martinez & Skillrex perfectly set the mood of madness, but the soundtrack includes arguably the best use of a Britney Spears song in a movie ever. Steven Price’s GRAVITY score is appropriately epic & awe-inspiring. Ramin Djawadi’s PACIFIC RIM is one of the more hummable themes of the year. Hans Zimmer doesn’t quite match John Williams’ iconic Superman theme, but his MAN OF STEEL score is very solid and certainly better than anything we’ve heard from the Marvel universe so far (though Brian Tyler’s IRON MAN 3 theme finally gives us something remotely memorable there). Speaking of Williams, it was a pleasure to hear his familiar strains in THE BOOK THIEF. Howard Shore continues to paint a perfect musical portrait of Middle-earth in THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG. OBLIVION is a fun conglomeration of every sci-fi movie ever and M83’s score sets a sweeping tone. I remember liking the music in HER, AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS, PRINCE AVALANCHE and NEBRASKA, too, and I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting. However, my personal favorite soundtracks of the year are BEFORE MIDNIGHT and INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS and FROZEN -- all of which I’ve been listening to repeatedly while writing this very blog post.

goodfellas_xlgOld Favorites the Way They Were Meant to be Seen: 2013 was a solid yet for repertory cinema, too. The IFC Center screened GOODFELLAS with a Q&A by none other than Anthony Bourdain -- it was my first time seeing one of Scorsese’s greatest classics on the big screen. IFC also offered me first-time big-screen viewings of THE SHINING, SPACEBALLS (!), ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and HAROLD & MAUDE, all of which were awesome. I reveled in the 3D re-release of JURASSIC PARK and saw it twice on two of NYC’s biggest & best screens (Loews Lincoln Square IMAX and Regal E-Walk RPX). The Film Forum, of all places, screened a dusty 35mm print of TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY. I took a rare trip to Brooklyn to see THE GODFATHER 1 & 2 back-to-back at the grand, newly-renovated Harvey Theatre. And in my own neck of the woods in upper Manhattan, the magnificent United Palace, a former Loews Wonder Theatre, reopened its doors to film for the first time since 1969 with screenings of CASABLANCA and IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. All the great 2013 releases notwithstanding, there’s nothing quite like seeing your favorite classics on the big screen and I fully intend to see more in 2014.

Aaaaand there you have it, folks. Thoughts? Questions? Criticisms? Death threats? Let’s discuss!