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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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Those that have talked to me about this past summer of movies can easily retell you – I was extremely disappointed.  Whether it was a gluttony of bad scripts or a lousy sequel, there were simply too many depressing moments.  Hollywood is blaming the gluttony of blockbusters amongst the shrinking audience or the increasing competition of other media – both of which are true, but in my opinion – very few of the films this summer resonated or were well made overall, thus creating bad word of mouth and a general lack of disinterest.  I don’t believe this will be my last summer film recap forever as summers likes 2012 showed that the medium can still be both profitable and high in quality, but I sure hope Hollywood studios understand the reasoning behind the faulty exterior.  

The films below are a grab-bag of both my good/bad opinions of this past film summer season (especially since I fell behind reviewing) and of course, I haven’t watched all the films of the summer so do keep that in mind.  Check them out:

Favorite Blockbuster/Guilty Pleasure: Pacific Rim 2013-movie-preview-pacific-rim
Dumb but fun – Del Toro’s Pacific Rim encapsulates the exact opposite of what I find so lacking in the Transformers series from Bay.  Del Toro pays respect to his inspirations while knowing to never be overly serious with his crazy subject matter.  Although the film could have taken a few more steps to be a truly great films for the ages (whether it was some really awkwardly acted scenes or some lackluster sub plots), the film threw some great surprises and understood the nature of pacing and showmanship.  Pacific Rim was the most fun I had this summer and even though it may have been oddly marketed in the US or perhaps overly geeky – it still makes for a really great ride that deserves to be seen on the big screen.  

Runner-Up: This is the End
Not a big fan of the ending and almost goes into the territory of being too in-jokey but hey, This is the End was probably the funniest movie of the summer with some surprisingly candid, funny laughs and great cameos.  

Overall Favorite Film: Fruitvale Station fruitvale-station-main
Although it was overly simplistic and lacked a bigger picture perspective, Fruitvale Station is one of the most touching and well-acted films of the summer and perhaps the year thus far.  Although the whole cast deserves much credit for brining both candidness and gravitas to this up-and-down story, Michael B. Jordan deserves the best nod here as a young man who is quick on his feet and seemingly bright with a shady, conflicted past that continues to haunt him.  It’s a film about family; a film about racial profiling; and perhaps most importantly, a film about the gravity choices, however big or small.  A terrific film all-around.  

Runner-Up: Blue Jasmine
Blue Jasmine lacks the charm and love of the film’s location, San Francisco, as other Allen films and starts out so depressing and never really gets any brighter.  Still, Blancett’s acting is absolutely terrific and the script helps dive the characters into a myriad of mistakes, lies and misery – Allen is as insightful as ever.  

Matt Damon (left) and Sharlto Copley in Columbia Pictures' ELYSIUM.Most Disappointing Summer Movie: Elysium
With so many sequels and remakes this summer, it was surprising to see that an original film from one of my past favorite film’s directors, District 9’s Blomkamp,  earn the distinction of being my most disappointing summer movie.  Although Elysium is beautiful in it’s vision and gives off an initially fascinating world, the film devolves into poor writing and strange plot points.  What we are ultimately left with is a rote, mindless action film added with one-note characters, unnecessary repetitive scenes and one of the weakest endings this summer – a mighty shame given the fascinating backdrop Blomkamp and team created.  

Runner-Up: Man of Steel
Love-it-or-hate-it, unfortunately, Snyder’s Superman interpretation falls for me as a ‘hate it’.  A number of aspects push the film down from it’s schizophrenic story to poor plot beats that end up with characters that I never emphasized much with.  Add on top of all this a second half that has grand action scenes without much care for the surroundings and a lack of emotional pull equates to one of the most disappointing superhero films of the summer.     

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