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Film Brief: Mitt

Mitt movie posterIf you’re a political junkie like I am — at least when it comes to presidential races — then you should enjoy Mitt, a Netflix exclusive.  I didn’t learn much more than I already knew about Mitt Romney, except he seems like a little nicer guy than you might imagine, someone who’s not above chasing down a little debris blowing in the breeze.  He also has a large, attractive and supportive family, who also all seem like nice people.

The political junkie in me wanted to see a little more politics, and the cinephile in me wanted a little more of a storyline — more surprises.  Nonetheless, with its candid behind-the-scenes look at a presidential campaign, Mitt is an entertaining film.  Make sure you watch the trailer first.  7/10

The Best and Worst of 2013

2013 was an interesting year in movies for two reasons: 1) the bigger movies hyped for awards season were generally disappointing, and 2) there were no great indie dramas this year, unlike 2012 which featured Safety Not Guaranteed and the second-best film of the year, Sound of My Voice.

In keeping with the parameters established last year, this list is a rundown of every 2013-released film I saw in the theater.  All links will be to the original posting.  From worst to first:

Anchorman 2 — 1/10 and Honours for Worst Movie of the YearRoom_237 poster small

Broken City — 2/10.  Russell Crowe, Mark Wahlberg, and… why?

Room 237 — 2/10

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints — 2/10.  Biggest disappointment among indies.

Mama — 2/10

No — 2/10 (Officially a 2012 film, but not released until 2013)

The Conjuring — 3/10

Now You See Me — 3/10

Much AdoMuch Ado About Nothing — 3/10.  Nothing is right.  As I recall, critics were pretty well tripping over themselves when this was released, and it ends up being another forgotten movie come awards time.  Validates my reaction, I’d say.  I swear, if American Hustle had been released in March there would not have been any nominations or talk about it being a Best Picture Oscar favorite.

Kon-Tiki — 3/10

Star Trek Into Darkness — 3/10

American Hustle — 4/10

You’re Next — 4/10

Gatsby Poster - large

The Great Gatsby — 4/10Inside Llewyn Davis - Poster small

Out of the Furnace — 4/10

Fruitvale Station — 5/10

Blue is the Warmest Color — 5/10

Inside Llewyn Davis — 5/10

The Wolf of Wall Street — 5/10

The Place Beyond the Pines — 5/10

Enough Said - PosterStoker — 6/10World War Z - poster

Mud — 6/10

The East — 6/10

Enough Said — 6/10

Nebraska — 6/10

World War Z — 7/10

Prisoners — 7/10

All Is Lost — 7/10

Dallas Buyers Club — 7/10

This Is the End — 7/10

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10.  Blue Jasmine — 8/10

9.  Elysium — 8/10

8.  The Way, Way Back — 8/10

7.  Don Jon — 8/10

6.  Side Effects — 8/10

5.  Gravity — 8/10.  Rating applies to in-theater 3D showing only.

4.  Oldboy — 8/10

3.  Captain Phillips — 9/10

2.  Her — 9/10.  A profound and visionary film, but edged out for best of the year because it didn’t have the emotional wallop delivered by:

1.  12 Years a Slave — 9/10 and Clearly the Best Movie of the Year.  The more I’ve thought about this movie, the more I appreciate its greatness.  An instant American classic, it is important not only within cinema but as an historical testament. 

Oscars for 12 Years and…?

12 Years a Slave - poster largeI was happily surprised to see the year’s best film 12 Years a Slave receive the Golden Globe for best dramatic picture, and then again winning last night for best picture at the Critics’ Choice Awards.  There seems to be some momentum for it; the question is will it be enough to overcome the formidable mojo of the otherwise mediocre American Hustle, as well as the rest of the field including another strong contender, Gravity?  It will be interesting to find out.  Though 12 Years a Slave is obviously the best picture of the year, the Academy is generally too dense to bestow cinema’s greatest honor upon those efforts which most deserve it.  It will be interesting to see.

The 9 nominees for Best Picture:

  • 12 Years a Slave
  • American Hustle
  • Captain Phillips
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • Gravity
  • Her
  • Nebraska
  • Philomena
  • The Wolf of Wall Street

I’ve seen all the above except Philomena.  Off the list are Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects, from earlier in the year, and Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, both of which are better than a number of films which did make it.  Also not expected for a nomination was the bold Don Jon.  Excessive boldness puts the Academy off, which is too bad because Don Jon was a strong and original movie, one of the year’s best.


‘Snub’ is a term the media likes to use during the awards season, but I prefer to look at it as mere incompetence.  Notable omissions:

  • Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix for Her, and Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips, who both put in much better performances than those of everyone who was nominated except Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years.  There’s also the perceived snub of Robert Redford for All is Lost.  He did a great job, but it’s tough to nominate someone for best actor in a role with no dialogue.
  • Best Actress: though it was only her voice, Scarlett Johansson did a great job in Her.
  • Directing: Compared to Spike Jonze, who was not nominated, David O. Russell (American Hustle) is a hack.  In fact, based on his last two films, he’s a hack even not compared to Jonze, who did a brilliant job with Her.
  • Don Jon: Both Joseph Gordon-Levitt (starring) and Scarlett Johansson (supporting) turned in terrific performances in Don Jon.  Neither character is necessarily sympathetic or likable, but that speaks even more to the caliber of acting on display.


One more comment in regards to the Golden Globes:  None of the movies nominated for best ‘Musical or Comedy’ were musicals or comedies.  Now granted, there weren’t any musicals this year.  The Wolf of Wall Street had something of an overall manic, comedic tone, but it was not a comedy per se.  And the other nominees?  Her, American Hustle, Inside Llewyn Davis and Nebraska?  Not comedies, folks, though there are some humorous moments here or there.  I suppose by that standard we should call Sophie’s Choice a comedy.

The Golden Globes decided to put those nominees in the Comedy category for the express purpose of insuring recognition of at least two ‘deserving’ movies, not just one.  In other words, they didn’t have the cojones to put American Hustle up against 12 Years a Slave.  What’s too bad about all this is that there were at least two very good comedies this year: The Way Way Back and This Is the End.  The Golden Globes certainly lost their way by not recognizing good comedic movies deserving a place in the category which was created for that purpose.  I suppose they made up for it somewhat by giving the top honor to 12 Years.

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Going back to the Best Picture Oscar — the awards season is much like the Presidential Election.  Films have to be campaigned for and win lesser victories before winning the biggest prize.  It’s remarkable how little press, and indeed how little respect, 12 Years has received, even after winning the Golden Globe.  So I would say it still has the odds against it, but then there was a time nobody gave Barack Obama a chance to win it all — so you never know.

You Must Get to Know Her


Spike Jonze has done it again.  It took him 14 years, but he has made a second film as visionary and deeply profound as Being John Malkovich.  Her is not the unqualified masterpiece that is Being John Malkovich, but it is a very great film.  Praise for Her is universal, and this time the critics got it right — a rarity in 2013.  Moira Macdonald, The Seattle Times:

Filmed with a bright crispness that speaks of a nostalgia for the future, “Her” is a touching, buoyant pleasure. You never know where this movie is going (though there are hints, if you’re looking for them), but you want to follow it. Phoenix and Johansson — or, rather, Phoenix’s face and Johansson’s voice — make the year’s oddest movie couple … and, perhaps, the most irresistible.

Richard Corliss, Time:

Jonze creates the splendid anachronism of a movie romance that is laugh-and-cry and warm all over, totally sweet and utterly serious.

My take: the idea of emotional attachment to an artificial intelligence is in and of itself not the profound novelty of this movie.  It’s the poetic, lyrical way it’s executed that makes Her so great.  Spike Jonze really got it right here, and all the performances are superb.  Joaquin Phoenix has I think emerged as an actor who’s almost ahead of Ryan Gosling as a completely compelling, fascinating presence on screen.  His strong performances were at the center of Walk The Line and The Master [prior post], and off on a completely divergent direction he provides the foundation here.

Now I know this movie is not for everybody.  Some people would find it downright tortuous to sit through.  If that’s the case, this blog is not for you.  Because I don’t care what the mood or genre or specific subject matter of a movie is.  “Chick Flick” is not a term I use.  All I care is whether or not a movie is good.

If you liked P.T. Anderson’s great film Punch-Drunk Love [prior post], you should like this one.  It’s different a hundred times over, but they both deliver odd but profound visions of romantic love that are rare in cinema.  If you haven’t seen Punch-Drunk Love, then just go with the preview — if it appeals to you, definitely see this.  And more to the point, if you ‘get’ my blog, that is if you like great movies, you’ll like Her.  9/10

Don’t Wolf It Down

2013 is turning out to be a bad year for movies.  Some of the most anticipated films the year have disappointed me — American Hustle, Inside Llewyn Davis, and now The Wolf of Wall Street.  I found The Wolf to be a very entertaining movie — for the length of a normal movie.  For no good reason, though, it’s three hours long.  Now I have no problem with long movies — as long as there’s a reason for it.  Last year’s best film, Django Unchained, clocked in at 2 hours 45 min., and I can’t imagine cutting a thing out.  It was a rich film that required every last minute to tell its delicious tale.  2001: A Space OdysseyBreaking the Waves and Mulholland Drive are further examples that come to mind, ones made greater by the time they occupy, not lesser.

Not the case with The Wolf of Wall Street.  I agree with critical consensus that this is a very entertaining film — but for only about the first half.  The second half on its own is not terrible — though there are some ridiculous, B-movie sequences that are put forward — but after about the half-way mark the film has said as much as it will by the end.  The last hour of the movie adds nothing fresh, and it ends up suffocating under its own extruded weight.

The Wolf of Wall Street - still

Jonah Hill and Leonardo DiCaprio in characteristic form which well represents the entire film.

And that’s a pity.  Trimming this movie down to the lean mean fighting machine that it deserves to be would have resulted in a champ.  As it is, I can only recommend it with the caveat that you peel yourself away for the last hour or so.  But of course I must judge the entire film, and on balance it’s thumbs down.  5/10

She by Spike Jonze is the next, and probably the last, big 2013 release — I sincerely hope I won’t be disappointed again.

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Comparison Notes (all recommended): Wall Street (duh), Natural Born Killers, Cape Fear