I am planning on writing about my favourite films of the year, like I did with my favourite TV shows of the year, but there are still a few movies I haven’t seen that very well could end up among my favourites from 2013. I’m updating this post with reviews every time I watch a movie on this list. Come back often.
The Alexander Payne-directed, black-and-white road movie about an aging man (Bruce Dern) and his son (Will Forte) driving to Nebraska from Montana to claim a million-dollar sweepstakes the father thinks he’s won. Also stars Bob Odenkirk and June Squibb. Payne directed Election, Sideways and The Descendants, among others. Nebraska is only screening at Cineplex Forum (formerly AMC Forum); I’m going to make the trek into the city tonight to catch it.
REVIEW: I’m so glad I caught Nebraska at the Forum last night (Dec. 17). It’s an often-funny and sometimes-heartbreaking film about the Grant family’s complicated relationship with the patriarch, Woody (a great Bruce Dern), a man his kids (Will Forte, Bob Odenkirk) and wife (June Squibb) and “friends” think drinks way too much and does way too little. Woody’s youngest son Dave (Forte, the first time the SNL alum has really stretched his acting muscle since leaving the show in 2010) decides he’ll drive Woody to Nebraska to collect the winnings Dave knows don’t exist. He needs something to live for, Dave explains. Woody receives a letter in the mail from those million-dollar sweepstakes people that just want him to buy magazine subscriptions. His family knows it’s a scam, but when people in Hawthorne, Nebraska, Woody’s hometown where the father-son duo make a stop on their way to Lincoln, find out Woody’s a millionaire, Woody’s brothers and old acquaintances come out of the woodwork hoping to get a cut of his winnings. The local newspaper even sends a photographer (a boy barely in his teens) to snap a shot of Woody. You’re on the journey with the Grants, but it’s through Dave that the story moves forward. While explaining to everyone that Woody didn’t actually win any money, that he’s just confused, Dave finds out about his father, a man he too quickly pegged as a lazy drunk. In a scene in which the Grants confront their extended family, Kate (Squibb, rightfully nominated for a Golden Globe for her work here) explains that her husband was a kind man who was constantly taken advantage of: “He couldn’t say no to anyone and that ruined him.” You don’t pick your family, Nebraska makes that clear. But if you’re lucky, you’ll learn about your family before it’s too late. Alexander Payne’s Nebraska is a great movie with characters so real they make the laughs and pain all the more sincere.
The third film in the Richard Linklater series starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. I’m rewatching Before Sunrise and Before Sunset in preparation. I’ll pick up the DVD for Before Midnight, released Oct. 22, later this week. I started with Before Sunrise last night, and I remember watching it and loving it, but it spoke to me in a way I don’t remember it doing before. It’s aged very well. In Before Midnight, we meet Jesse and Celine nine years after Before Sunset vacationing in Greece.
REVIEW: I was 6 when Before Sunrise came out and 15 when its sequel, the Paris-set Before Sunset, was released. Today, Sunrise and Sunset speak to me infinitely more than they did when I first watched them in my late teens. The series’ third part, Before Midnight, is a welcome addition to Jesse and Celine’s story. It finds the couple vacationing in Greece with their twin girls, nine years after the events of Sunset. Jesse has just driven his son to the airport where he’ll be flying back to Chicago, where he lives with Jesse’s ex-wife. Jesse ponders whether his son, now 14, could benefit from a more constant paternal presence. It only takes this passing remark for Celine to tell Jesse she is not moving to the States. Could there be trouble brewing in paradise? Midnight is more ambitious than Sunrise and Sunset. The supporting cast is bigger than it’s ever been, but Jesse and Celine still manage to get in their signature dialogues in three scenes, and that’s when Midnight is the best (the car ride, the walk to the hotel and, spoiler alert, their fight in the hotel room). The takes and scenes seem to be impossibly long, a testament to Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s work across the series, but a feat that is even more spectacular given the meatiness of their story at this point. Midnight is also longer than Sunrise and Sunset, and it seems apt: the stakes are higher than ever. It’s no longer whether Jesse and Celine, who moviegoers first met when the pair met on a train and, on a whim, decided to spend an evening, night and early morning together in Vienna, will ever meet again; it’s whether these two can make it once life happens to them. There’s a realness and believability in Midnight that’s sorely missing from love stories in movies that makes the latest Richard Linklater venture a must-see (at one point, Jesse tells Celine: “This is real life. It’s not perfect, but it’s real.”). I had the foresight of re-watching Sunset and Sunrise earlier this week before taking in Midnight and it was an especially nice treat to experience it this way. This is the fictional, love-story version of the documentary 7 Up series.
The latest Coen Brothers film is about a down-on-his-luck (is there any other kind of Coen Bros. character?) folk singer in 1961 Greenwich Village. Inside Llewyn Davis is slated for a Christmas Day release in Montreal.
A movie that’s been on my must-watch list since I saw the trailer months ago. Directed and written by Spike Jonze, Her is about Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely writer who falls for Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), the woman who voices his new “artificially intelligent operating system.” Her gets a limited release tomorrow, Dec. 18, and opens wider (and in Montreal, presumably) on Jan. 10, 2014.
Another Christmas Day release. The Tracy Letts play is given the big-screen treatment with a script adapted by Letts himself, directed by John Wells, and starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale, Juliette Lewis, Julianne Nicholson, Abigail Breslin, Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch and Dermot Mulroney, among others. August: Osage County premiered in Canada at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The latest Martin Scorsese epic clocks in at just under three hours (179 minutes, to be exact) after the famed director reportedly edited down from its original four-hour-plus runtime. Scorsese teams up with Leonardo Di Caprio again, as well as Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey, who is having one of the best years ever with top-notch work in Mud and Dallas Buyers Club. The Wolf of Wall Street is slated for a Dec. 25 release in Montreal.
David O. Russell is on a hot streak, and he doesn’t look like he’s slowing down for 2013. After 2010’s The Fighter and last year’s Silver Linings Playbook, the director is reuniting the all-star casts of those movies for American Hustle, a 70s- and 80s-set crime dramedy about the FBI’s Abscam sting operation. Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Louis C.K. and Jeremy Renner star. American Hustle opens in Montreal on Dec. 20.
Tom Hanks as Walt Disney in the Disney movie about how the studio secured the rights to the film adaptation of Mary Poppins written by P.L. Travers, portrayed by the ever-so-likeable Emma Thompson. Slated for a Dec. 20 Montreal release.
I recommend Cinéma du Parc for anyone looking for gems. Blackfish screened there for a short while, but I missed it. Ditto The Act of Killing. But the two have been released on DVD now, and I’ll be checking them out very, very soon.
REVIEW, Blackfish: Tilikum is a sight to behold: the six-tonne orca is the largest killer whale in captivity and an attraction for millions of SeaWorld visitors every year. But Tilikum, captured in 1983 and made to perform in several sea parks for three decades, has grown aggressive over the years, injuring several trainers and even killing three, including the very experienced Dawn Brancheau. Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s excellent documentary Blackfish features interviews with former SeaWorld trainers, some who knew Brancheau, others who experienced or witnessed other forms of aggression from Tilikum or other orcas. One former trainer said in an interview that all whales in captivity are ticking time bombs. Another said that there is absolutely a way for SeaWorld to continue operating while making the safety and well-being of the whales and their trainers paramount. The future is murky, but what becomes clear as Blackfish unfolds is that there were warning signs that were ignored. There are many tragedies here: that a regal, majestic creature like an orca would be taken from its natural environment and placed in what I can only describe as a large and deep swimming pool; that people who spent years training whales would be killed by one. But the biggest tragedy may be the secrecy with which SeaWorld operates. Many of the trainers interviewed didn’t know about incidents with the orcas and were told by higher-ups at the park that the accidents were due to “trainer error.” Through archival footage, photos, court documents, and compelling interviews – one interview with two women who were at the show in Sealand (near Victoria, B.C.) in 1992 when Tilikum drowned a 20-year-old trainer is especially chilling – Blackfish makes a compelling case against any animals being captured and trained for human entertainment. At a brisk 83 minutes, Blackfish is a must-see.
REVIEW, The Act of Killing: A haunting documentary. It’s a wonder something like this even got made. A filmmaker provides former Indonesian executioners the equipment they would need to make a film based on their experiences killing thousands of communists. Chilling; it’s a documentary with twists at every turn, as you learn more about these men who are so proud of their accomplishments. Eventually though you learn – and they realize – that there are demons that haunt them.
Judi Dench is heartbreaking in the trailer for Philomena, based on a true story, in which she plays the title character, a woman looking for the son she had to give away at birth after she was forced to join a convent. Philomena is directed by Stephen Frears, who directed High Fidelity and The Queen, and is in many Montreal cinemas now.
REVIEW: Judi Dench is spectacular in the title role and while it wasn’t really groundbreaking, hers and Steve Coogan’s performances are good enough to merit Philomena a recommendation from me. It might also be the most honest movie about journalism in years.
Stars Brie Larson as a young foster-care worker. Heralded on the festival circuit and nominated for three Independent Spirit Awards, Short Term 12 will be released on DVD on Jan. 14.
Ron Howard directs the Daniel Bruhl/Chris Hemsworth vehicle Rush, which depicts the rivalry between F1 racers Niki Lauda and James Hunt.
Robert Redford *is* the cast. The one-person J.C. Chandor film screened at the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma in October.
Louis Cyr was Quebec’s most successful film of 2013. It wasn’t screened at Cannes, like Sophie préfère la course, and it wasn’t Canada’s official entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, like Gabrielle, but it got Quebecers to the theatres to watch a homegrown film, and that is no easy feat.
A release that’s become doubly interesting since Nelson Mandela passed away earlier this month. Idris Elba and Naomie Harris star in the biopic of the late, great leader. Another Christmas-Day release.