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Archive for December, 2013

Wie's Top 10 Movies of 2013Friends and peers have already heard my fairly disappointed reaction to the year in cinema.  However, that is not to say that there were a lack of fantastic movies.  Instead, these top films did a fantastic job in remolding classic tropes while also bringing to light social and cultural issues that have plagued society in the past and to this very day (and possible even to the future).  Here are my favorite ten films of 2013:

Captain_phillips_movie_110. Captain Phillips
There was a tough fight between ‘Nebraska’ and ‘Captain Phillips’, but in the end, I believe ‘Captain Phillips’ resonated more as an overall film, even if ‘Nebraska’ has the bigger character pull.  ‘Phillips’ may lack much in biting commentary and social relevance in comparison to many of the other films on this list, but Director Greengrass showcases a biopic that is tense, tangible and frank as it tries to understand both the Somali and US positions.  Not relying on CG gimmicks or unnecessary subplots, the film tangles the viewer up in a stand-off between a Somali pirate and a captain just trying to do his job with fantastic performances from Hanks and newcomer Abdi.

movies-the-hunger-games-catching-fire-caesar-katniss-tribute-interview9. The Hunger Games Catching Fire
My two favorite blockbusters of the year were ‘Pacific Rim’ and ‘Catching Fire.’ This entry of the ‘Hunger Games’ saga takes the list because it does a terrific job in not only adapting it’s source material but creating an engaging and thoughtful world that touches upon relevant social issues.  In addition, it takes the foundations and most of the problems from it’s predecessor and successfully elevates itself above most of them.  Centered with a stalwart Lawrence and a good supporting cast, ‘Catching Fire’ is what modern book-to-film adaptations should strive for (compared to the weaker ‘Ender’s Game’ launch that came out just weeks before).

gravity-28. Gravity
Cuaron is one of my favorite personal directors of this generation, and it is a pleasure to see him return to the screen after a five-year hiatus with this beauty.  ‘Gravity’ is one of the best technological feats of the year and a terrific thriller.  It’s still astounding that much of this film is CG and is one of the best representations of space in cinema along with the terrific cinematography and sound design.  It’s a shame that the acting and narrative thread did not fare as well as the pacing and audio/visual experience, but ‘Gravity’ is a stellar example of a movie to see in theaters (and in 3D) to fully understand Cuaron’s vision.

01-inside-llewyn-davis7. Inside Llewyn Davis
In a year of great films based on actual figures, the biggest surprise is that ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ is a fictional tale at it’s core.  Why?  Because the Coen Brothers masterfully grounds the film with beautiful folk songs and characters that really embody the post-World War II era.  The film is quite the downer and feels like it meanders too much, but Isaac’s performance is full of heart while the film’s subject matter is oddly refreshing in showcasing the tough life behind most creatives.  It may not be the Coen Brothers’ best work outright, but it is still an engaging film all-around.

20131220171809wolf_36. The Wolf of Wall Street
Loud, obnoxious and hilarious – ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ is a strange Scorsese/DiCaprio beast.  On the one hand, the film is messy and excessive like it’s titular character.  On the other hand, the characters are colorful and fascinating, while the tone is ridiculous and devastating.  In the end, it’s tough to say if the film completely succeeds in making much commentary about the US financial institution or in taking a stand on Belfort’s actions, but the ride it takes is hysterical and disgusting to think that it actually happened and will elicit fascinating conversations about it’s subject matter – a purpose that most likely is what Scorsese aimed for.

Dallas Buyers Club SCap 0025. Dallas Buyer’s Club
Like many of the films on this list, ‘Dallas Buyer’s Club’ manages to both emotionally charge and humorously look at serious issues, which in this case delves into both the HIV/AIDs epidemic and one man’s fight for a cure.  Here is a solid biopic that effectively tells its transformative tale with the right pacing and delivery with just a few squeaky wheels here and there that needed fine-tuning.  ‘Dallas Buyer’s Club’ is also a terrific centerpiece for McConaughey – an actor, who in 2013, has truly shown a wide amount of dexterity in his acting capabilities with ‘Dallas Buyer’s’ probably being his most intense physically and emotionally role along with Leto’s amazing supporting performance.

American-Hustle_612x3804. American Hustle
Which film had the best ensemble acting piece of the year? It unsurprisingly had to have come from David O Russell, who continues his rampage in creating brilliant character films.  ‘American Hustle’ is perhaps one of his more complicated story pieces and although the plot still has a few issues (especially in it’s ho-hum ending), the characters and dialogue are thick with wit and nuance.  These hustling personas are probably even better thanks to the awesome cast including Bale, Lawrence and Cooper being the standouts.  ‘Hustle’ is an awesome period piece and one of the most entertaining films of the year.

her3. Her
Although the premise of a human falling for a robotic being may have been done before, few films have tried to fully embrace a love story without an epic backdrop or complicated exposition.  Even though the mileage of the premise dependent on one’s serious engagement with the material, ‘Her’ brings forth one of the best romantic stories of the year, and the visual and audio experiences are also some of the most beautiful of the year.  Put all of this together with it’s close-to-home themes of our infatuation with our devices and the end product comes out to a futuristic story that may not be far off.

fruitvale station.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-large2. Fruitvale Station
Here is one of the simplest films on my list yet is also the clearest in vision and gravitas.   ‘Fruitvale Station’ compels you into it’s one-day narrative of the tragic story of a young man, who is trying to turn his life around and is in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Anchored by a powerhouse performance from Michael B. Jordan, this film makes you try and understand all of it’s main characters and their motivations before unloading the final few devastating blows.  Through it’s successes as a film, ‘Fruitvale Station’ stands as a stark reminder to the problems of excessive force and racism in the modern day.

12_years_a_slave_featured1-618x4001. 12 Years a Slave
It’s fascinating to see these top two films complement each other in an odd way – ‘Fruitvale’ showcases the problems of present-day racism while ’12 Years a Slave’ highlights many past grievances – a perhaps sobering reminder of problems that still exist after all these years.  ’12 Years’ is a brutal and candid movie that may feel a bit long but to the film’s thematic value rather than to it’s detriment.  McQueen truly showcases one of the hardest hitting movies regarding slavery – giving insight into the stories of free men turned into slaves. Add onto this some startling performances from Chitwal and a host of supporting actors like Fassbender to elevate the film as one of the year’s most memorable if not most emotional.

And so the Wie muses…

Honorable Mentions: Nebraska, Much Ado About Nothing, Blue Jasmine, The Croods, Pacific Rim

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11172241_det‘Oldboy’ was a very provocative film when it first released on Korean shores.  Beautifully shot with a frenetic style, it was part of a fascinating Korean renaissance of filmmaking and quite the film to watch.  As often as it happens in the modern day of films, the US has taken the property and remade it, unfortunately to very unsatisfying results.  This new iteration of ‘Oldboy’ may have the trappings of it’s original’s plotline but lacks little else in it’s messy execution that may only please on the most superficial levels.

‘Oldboy’ follows Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) who is working in advertising and is a drunkard in the worst ways.  After a drunken night in town, he suddenly blacks out and is awaken in a motel room which he cannot escape.  After 20 years of imprisonment and learning through an in-room TV that he is framed for murder for his ex-wife along with his daughter trying to live a normal life, Joe is put in a box and let go in the middle of the city – trying to retrace who may have wronged him and why.  Along the way, Joe encounters Marie (Elizabeth Olsen), Chaney (Samuel L. Jackson) and finally, the Stranger (Sharlto Copley) himself.

Spike Lee’s remake falls apart in several key aspects: the bland aesthetical choices, a rushed/weaker script and a miscast set of actors.  In terms of just a visual and auditory experience, ‘Oldboy’ underwhelms.  A generic orchestral soundtrack that is oddly punctured with a metal guitar during action sequences feel completely uninspired.  On top of this, there is a lack of much physicality to scenes like the hammer fight scene, which feels odd in how it is shot and the lack of emotion within the choreography.  This scene is a great example of how this film simply takes a key scene from the original and only goes through the motions of remaking it rather than understanding what made the scene great overall.

How the hammer scene is written is a great reminder in how the whole script seemed to work – simply summarizing points from the original and never doing much to capture the spirit or emotion behind it’s predecessor.  More like a ‘greatest hits’ remake, the film makes nods towards the original (such as an octopus in a fish tank) and follows the original’s plot track beat-by-beat but never seems to capture the intensity or even mystery/tension that this film tries to grasp towards.  Joe, for instance, has an unnecessary and poorly shot scene where he fights a group of football players that tries to showcase his anger and new fighting prowess but comes off making the character even more unlikable and confusing as to why it had to happen.  The climax and explanations/additions/changes all feel undercooked and underwhelming as well.  Mixed in with the weak script is some of the worst product placement of the year that tries to integrate itself with Joe’s lack of technological prowess and ends up displaying more logos with unnecessary screen time.

Additionally, the majority of the cast feel completely misplaced or, at the very least, awkwardly written in.  Josh Brolin, for instance, is written off as a very unlikable character and does not find much redemption in his actions or given any really redeeming qualities.  These features become important since we stick with the character throughout the entire film and although Brolin is given a numerous amount of hardships to overcome, the audience rarely empathizes with the drama itself.  These casting problems extend to Copley and to a certain extent, even Jackson who feel more goofball than evil.  The most positive aspect about the film is probably Olsen who as a character is written a bit more logically than her counterpart in the original film and in terms of acting, is the most comfortable in her role.  It’s just a shame that the rest of the film was not given more attention like her.

‘Oldboy’ is a great example into how not to remake a film.  On top of a generic and inconsistent soundtrack and a mostly odd miscast cast, the script simply only replicates the beats than take the innovative style and charisma of it’s predecessor.  The end effect feels like a sloppy film that has been ‘Hollywood-ized’ in the worst ways.  If you are interested in the premise behind the film, go watch the original Korean version of the film.  This version of the story feels uninspired and generic even with the pedigree of the cast and crew behind it.  

Director: Spike Lee
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Rated: R

The Wie muses: * 1/2 out of *****

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