Wednesday, January 29, 2014

movies of 2013... the best part one

Finally... the best movies I was able to see in 2013. Now you'll notice this is a Part 1... because there are actually 20 movies to talk about. Tomorrow, you'll get Part 2, which are all 2013 movies, and I'll list the best of them that I saw from January 1st to December 31st, 2013...

Today, however, is the Top Ten Movies from 2012 and before that I watch in 2013. Y'all feel me flow? Dig? Cool.

10... The Good, the Bad & the Ugly (1966)... As part of our movie series, we were assigned to watch this classic spaghetti western, part of the "Dollars Trilogy" (no, that's not Campbell, Lorelei and Naomi, my three kids, two of which I don't have)... this goes along with "A Fistful of Dollars" and "For a Few Dollars More", which all star Clint Eastwood as The Man with No Name. This particular tale is all the usual Western standards... robbery, gold, betrayal, hangings, horses, ponchos... but its Eastwood, Eli Wallach and Lee Von Cleif that sets this apart... that, and the all too familiar score that you would know in a second.

9... Les Miserables (2012)... When I heard they were doing a movie version (again) of Les Miserables, I didn't think of the Liam Neeson film, I thought of two other films... Chicago, that did the musical adaptation right... and Mamma Mia!, which was a big, fat mess... so all I could do was hope for the best. For the most part, I wasn't disappointed. Hugh Jackman is a fantastic Jean Valjean, and Anna Hathaway defines Fantine (when she finished singing "I Dreamed A Dream", I looked at The Lovely Steph Leann and said, "She just won an Oscar"--and I was right). Amanda Seyfried is just fine as Cosette, though I do not love her singing voice, and I think Sacha Baron Cohen is incredibly miscast as Thenardier... though that might be because I'm loyal and beholden to the Highlights CD that I've been listening to for 20 years...

Russell Crowe? I don't think he was nearly as bad as everyone made it out to be, and I applaud his bravery for even doing the singing part... but he was not a strong point. However, I did love this version overall.

8... This is 40 (2012)... Let's see... Paul Rudd is one of my favorite two or three actors out there. I have a thing for Lesley Mann. Judd Apatow is a solid director. Put them altogether, and we have the perfect movie? No... not perfect. But good. I've seen it twice, and it got much, much better the second time I watch it.

7... West of Memphis (2012)... I'm a big fan of crime drama true story books and documentaries, and this one was unbelievable. The story goes that in the early 90s, three little boys were murdered and mutilated by a creek in the town of West Memphis, Arkansas. The police, in a hurry to find someone to pin this on, found their guys... three teenagers, led by Damien Echols, who had the audacity to listen to metal music, draw pictures that church goers didn't like, and wear lots and lots of black. On the strength of what seems like a forced confession of one of the three, all three teens were arrested, tried in a ridiculous trial and sentenced to life, with Damien getting the death penalty.

Over the years, more and more evidence that showed their innocence came out, as well as proof of shoddy and biased police work, until it was almost obvious that the teens didn't have anything to do with the crimes--and what's more, investigators all but ignored glaring evidence and signs that pointed to one or two other suspects.

All of this was chronicled in the three part documentary series of Paradise Lost Trilogy, which is an amazing viewing in itself--but this one takes all three of those, and puts them together into one 2 hour and 20 minute package. I highly recommend you see this, and make your own conclusions.

6... Room 237 (2012)... For fans of "The Shining" by Stephen King, you will have probably seen "The Shining" film, directed by Stanley Kubrick. King himself in years since says he hated Kubrick's vision of the story (in recent years, King has reiterated this point)... but Kubrick's vision is amazing. And creepy. And terrifying. And so, so odd. Hence, the documentary "Room 237", named for a hotel room in the story that holds strange, unspeakable things. The doc centers on conspiracy theories, everything from Kubrick's nod to the Holocaust by using a German typewriter, to the odd way he's laid out the hotel scenes... in one shot, the main character Jack is talking with the hotel manager in the office, where out of a window you can see trees and sky... in another shot, Danny is riding his tricycle down the hall, passing that same office, and based on his path, the office is obviously in the middle of the hotel with no window. That kind of stuff. Its almost a car-wreck type fascination that draws you to this, you sit and watch and think "These people have way too much time on their hands" and then remember you've been watching for an hour. It's awesome.

5... The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)... What a sweet, cute little movie. Based on the novel by Stephen Chbosky, who also directed, its a coming of age high school tale of a loner named Charlie, a new freshman, who really only connects with his favorite teacher, played by Paul Rudd, who is excellent in this small role. He is somehow befriended by two seniors, Sam (Emma Watson) and her stepbrother Patrick (Ezra Miller), and throughout the school year, their friendship grows, especially as Charlie develops real feelings for Sam--and this is to the chagrin of Mary Elizabeth (a growed up Mae Whitman) who is possessive of Charlie after one accidental kiss.

There is also a small subplot involving Charlie's aunt, played by one of my favorites, Melanie Lynskey, that provides a turn that I didn't see coming at all until just before its revealed, but it provides real heart and even heartbreak to the story. Its a beautiful movie, and well done, especially by Emma Watson, who is continuing to prove that she is, in fact, no longer Hermione Granger.

4... Pitch Perfect (2012)... Another one of my favorites, Anna Kendrick, leads this pack of up and coming Hollywood stars and starlets, as her Beca is trying to fit in to Barden University, all the while chasing her own dream of being a music producer. She tries out for the a capella female group The Barden Bellas, once the darlings of the university, now on the bottom rung due to one of its lead singers vomiting on stage at the previous year's competition.

This film is fun, its light, never preachy, and really, surprisingly, not gay. As in, it doesn't take a gay guy and hit you over the head like some films do, preaching tolerance. Instead, the cast is brilliant, with Rebel Wilson as the hilariously named "Fat Amy", the unknown Hana Mae Lee as a very quietly talking Lilly who can beatbox, and Brittany Snow, as the co-leader of the Bellas. And a cameo by the likes of Donald Faison and Tom Lennon as part of a "we were cool then, trying to be cool now" group that graduated college years ago, but is still hanging around.

3... 12 Angry Men (1957)... Keep in mind, this list is titled "Best" but its my favorites of the year. If I were truly declaring "Best films Ever", this would probably be in the Top Ten, as this film is nearly perfect, flawless. Henry Fonda plays Juror #8 who is the only one who says "not guilty" in a trial of what looks like a slam-dunk case. A teenager from a slum is accused of stabbing his father, and Juror 8 just simply wants to talk about it. The other 11 jurors range from a guy with baseball tickets burning a hole in his pocket (Juror 7) to a rational stockbroker only interested in facts (Juror 4) to an extreme racist (Juror 10) who is ready to fry the defendant because of his color.

Every character is important, and some you love and some you despise, Juror 10 being one of them, and some you just want to smack, like Juror 3, who refuses to believe this kid might be innocent.

This.Is.Such.A.Good.Movie. It goes beyond "yeah, great movie" to "this is a good, good film". See it.

2... Django Unchained (2012)... Set in the pre-Civil War era, this Tarantino film follows a slave named Django (pronounced "jango", as the "D" is silent) who is purchased by a bounty hunter named Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz, who won an Oscar for this role) In exchange for the assistance in finding a couple of fugitives that Django knows of, Schultz agrees to help Django rescue his wife, Broomhilda, who was taken away and sold to another owner.

Its a sweeping, epic-type film that takes you from one scenario to the other as Schultz and Django first work together, and then develop a friendship, as they end up at a ruthless slavemaster's plantation--played to the hilt by Leonardo DiCaprio--who enjoys the sport of "mandingo fighting", that is, pitting one slave against another to the death.

While Leo is deplorable, likewise is his servant, Stephen, also played deliciously by Samuel L. Jackson. You learn to hate them both, and quickly.

This movie is not for the faint of heart, like most of all of Quentin Tarantino's movies are, but as a movie fan, I ate this movie up. Its a hard R, with soooo much violence, almost to the point of comical, and lots and lots of language, including a pervasive use of the N-Word. This isn't one I'll watch over and over, for the reasons I just named, but its still a winner to me.

And my favorite film that I watched in 2013 that wasn't actually a 2013 release?

1... Silver Linings Playbook (2012)... There are certain movies going into them that you know you will like... "American Hustle" was one. "Up in the Air" was another. "Frozen" is a third example. And this one, "Silver Linings Playbook". I am so in love with this movie that it might actually be the best film I saw overall last year, no matter the release date.

Pat (Bradley Cooper) has just been released from psychiatric care following treatment for bipolar disorder. He's now living with his mother and his gambling addicted father (Jacki Weaver and Robert DeNiro, respectively, both in amazing roles) and is trying hard to get his life on track and reconcile with his wife Nikki--who has a restraining order against him due to the violent episode that got him committed to begin with (its explained throughout the film).

Sometime later, while having dinner with his friend Ronnie and Ronnie's family, he meets Ronnie's sister in law Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence, in an Oscar winning performance), a widow who just lost her job.

The connection is there due to shared issues, neurosis and just an odd pair of lives. She convinces him to dance with her at an upcoming dance competition, while she agrees to help Pat get back together with his ex-wife, Nikki.

The movie is just wonderful, in all aspects, and one that I could--and have--watch over and over... I love the characters in this film, I love the appearance of Chris Tucker as Pat's hospital friend, and everything just flows.

So that's that Top Ten... how about the actual movies that I saw in 2013 that came out in 2013?

(20,118 words written in January... #20KWordsInJanuary accomplished)

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