Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Top 10 Movies of 2013

Some years, you feel part of the critical consensus. Other years, you see eye-to-eye on some picks while at the same time championing a few unloved and overlooked choices. 2013 was a year in which, for the most part, I felt outside the consensus. Her, Gravity and 12 Years a Slave didn't make my Top 10; none of them moved or impressed me as much as some of my under-the-radar selections. (My thoughts on Her here. My thoughts on Gravity here. My thoughts on 12 Years a Slave here.)

Before I reveal my list, I should acknowledge the few movies I'm mad I missed. Those include The Invisible Woman, Viola, Night Across the Street, The Last Time I Saw Macao, Passion, Cousin Jules and Ulrich Seidl's Paradise trilogy. (And I would have loved to have caught The Grandmaster one more time.) So, with those caveats aside, here is my Top 10 of 2013...

1. Inside Llewyn Davis
2. Blue Is the Warmest Color
3. Let the Fire Burn
4. Before Midnight
5. Leviathan
6. Upstream Color
7. Stories We Tell
8. At Berkeley
9. This Is Martin Bonner
10. The Unspeakable Act

I go into more detail about my Nos. 10-6 here. And I wrote about movies Nos. 5-1 here. (For more list fun, check out my full Village Voice film ballot.)

For what it's worth, seven of my 10 choices -- the top seven, actually -- were all seen at film festivals. The other three were watched as online screeners. (I caught part of At Berkeley initially at Toronto but couldn't stay for the whole film, unfortunately.) It seems that this split will continue in the near future: between the shared community (with its exhaustion and anticipation) of a film festival; and the intimacy of one's own home watching an online screener that sometimes can be maddening if the damn thing loads slowly. That latter category of film consumption is reflected in the above photo, which is a shot of me on my MacBook as I'm watching The Unspeakable Act, which includes a scene where the main character is watching a video on her MacBook. I've rarely felt so weirdly connected to someone onscreen.

Also, a few more words about my top two films. Leaving Cannes, I had ranked Blue Is the Warmest Color and Inside Llewyn Davis as No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. It was the thinnest of margins. But after rewatching them both back in Los Angeles, I decided that Llewyn Davis cut deeper and said more than Blue, which was nonetheless dazzling and poignant in its own right. The fascinating thing about film festivals is how they provide you with a first-draft opinion about movies. But those opinions aren't definitive: They're best-guesses, and checking back on some of my favorites months later helped crystallize my initial feelings about them. That process doesn't end, of course: Five years from now, my Top 10 of 2013 might look slightly different.

I hope you had a good 2013, whether at the movies or in your real life. Personally, I was excited to begin a regular column at Playboy and be named Chief Film Critic for Paste. Additionally, 2013 was my first time at Cannes, an experience that lived up to my significant expectations. (Going to True/False for the first time was also a real treat.) And I was flattered and honored to be asked to write for The Dissolve; I very much admire what those guys and gals are doing over there. And, of course, continuing to write for Screen International and Deadspin -- two very different audiences -- remains a thrill. Here's to an even better 2014 for all of us.

Friday, December 27, 2013

2013's Worst Movies

Next week, I reveal my top movies of 2013. But right now, here's a quick, snotty rundown of the five worst I saw this year. Ugh, Getaway.

Arctic Monkeys - "Do I Wanna Know?"

My Pazz & Jop ballot has been sent in. (The results will be out in early January.) I'll reveal my picks then, but for now here's a song that just missed my Top 10.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Year's Best Overlooked Movie Performance

There is a very good chance you've never heard of C.O.G. Premiering in Sundance's U.S. dramatic competition, it was mostly overlooked both at the festival and then later during its theatrical run. I loved it, especially Denis O'Hare's supporting turn. At Deadspin, Will Leitch and I each pick our favorite forgotten movie performance of 2013. Seemed like a good opportunity to sing O'Hare's praises, which I do here.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

What Was 2013's Best Movie Scene?

Whoops, the picture gave it away, huh? Well, you might as well read on to see what I thought of Gravity's stunning opening.

Monday, December 23, 2013

'47 Ronin' Review

47 Ronin isn't bad, per se, just boring. And sorta pointless. And dull. Oh, and boring. Keanu Reeves is in it. That's something...but not enough. My review is up at Screen International.

The Best Non-2013 Discovery of 2013

This week's Criticwire Survey asks the question, "What's the best piece of non-2013 culture you discovered in 2013?" This seemed like a perfect opportunity to write about seeing the revival of Einstein on the Beach in Los Angeles this year. Hope you enjoy.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Disclosure - "F for You"

With the Pazz & Jop ballot deadline on Christmas Eve, I'm currently spending a lot of my time going back through the year's best albums to decide which ones are going to make the cut. I feel pretty confident one of them will be Settle, the debut album from Disclosure, a duo made up of brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence. Just about everything on Settle grabs the ear, but today I'm really feeling "F for You."

Thursday, December 19, 2013

'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' Review

I'm curious how audiences will respond to The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It's a big would-be crowd-pleaser starring a guy who's had hits by hanging out with Robert De Niro and museum exhibits that come to life. But Walter Mitty is a different animal: an effects-heavy, seriocomic tale about seizing the day. I wasn't bitterly opposed to the film, but I found myself rather underwhelmed by the whole thing. My Walter Mitty review is up at Paste.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

On 'Her' and the Trap of the Overly Sensitive Guy

Her is the latest of a kind of romantic comedy that also includes Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and (500) Days of Summer. In these movies, an ineffectual, sensitive man-child struggles to win the girl of his dreams. I like Her fine, but what I think is interesting is that most of its rave reviews haven't discussed the movie's most interesting element, which is its examination of this sort of guy and his major limitations. For Playboy, I discuss the sad fate of so-called Sad-Sack Sensitive Guys. Hope you enjoy.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

'The Wolf of Wall Street' Review

This is probably not a popular choice, but my favorite Martin Scorsese/Leonardo DiCaprio collaboration is Shutter Island. Nervy, distinct, a bit mad, it haunts me, which I wrote about here. Their latest team-up is for The Wolf of Wall Street, which isn't as strong but definitely has its stellar attributes. And I should remind myself that with Shutter Island I was initially impressed but not bowled over: It took a second viewing to be properly wowed. Maybe that will happen here, too. Regardless, for Screen International here's my Wolf of Wall Street review.

Monday, December 16, 2013

My Most Anticipated Movie of 2014

A lot of films could fit this description, but in the latest Criticwire survey, I went with one I've already seen -- but had real reservations about. (By the way, last year for this question, I selected 12 Years a Slave. Pretty decent pick, yes?)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Steely Dan - "Dirty Work"

One of the pleasures of American Hustle is its '70s soundtrack, which includes superb use of Steely Dan's "Dirty Work" early on. Because I'm me, when I recently interviewed director David O. Russell at a Q&A after a screening, I asked him specifically about the choice to include "Dirty Work." He said that they actually filmed that sequence while playing the song. Which is awesome.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

R. Kelly - 'Black Panties' Review

I have never understood people's ironic fascination with Trapped in the Closet, R. Kelly's dopey "hip-hopera." As for his music, well, that's complicated, too. For Playboy, I dive into his new album, Black Panties, and discuss why it's hard to separate his personal failings from his artistry. Hope you enjoy.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug' Review

I liked The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, so I'm not surprised to report that the follow-up film, The Desolation of Smaug, is pretty good, too. But for my Deadspin review, I went beyond just talking about the movie to also discuss this whole notion of expectations. Hopefully it won't seem too far afield for readers.

'Saving Mr. Banks' Review

I like Tom Hanks. I like Emma Thompson. I like the idea of Saving Mr. Banks, which offers a behind-the-scenes look into the making of Mary Poppins. But I had many, many issues with the final product. I reviewed Saving Mr. Banks for Paste.

Friday, December 06, 2013

'Inside Llewyn Davis' and the Coen Brothers' Character Studies

I first saw Inside Llewyn Davis at Cannes more than six months ago. I loved it then, but it's grown in my estimation ever since. Today, it hits select cities. For Deadspin, I talk about the film and the fact that it's part of my favorite subsection of Coen brothers films, which includes Barton Fink, The Man Who Wasn't There and A Serious Man. Here's my essay, which I hope you enjoy.

Jason Isbell - "Elephant"

Southeastern will definitely be making my Pazz & Jop ballot. It's Jason Isbell's most consistent post-Drive-By Truckers album, but it took me a while to get into it. These songs initially felt a little too blandly "confessional" for my taste, but a few spins in the car and a little concentration made me realize how touching and pointed so many of these stripped-down tracks were. Take "Elephant," which is purely fictional, as far as I know, but has such rich, precise detail that it seems based on fact. Regardless, it rips your guts out.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

The Greats: Robert De Niro

How do you solve a problem like Robert De Niro? For two decades, he was easily one of our finest actors. But since then? Much harder to be so effusive in one's praise. I tackle both halves of his career in my latest installment of "The Greats" for Paste.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Britney Spears - 'Britney Jean' Review

Britney Jean is the first studio album Britney Spears has released in her 30s. (She turned 32 on Monday.) For Playboy, I dissected the record and tried to understand why her sexy music feels so incredibly unsexy. My review is here.

'American Hustle' Review

As you may have seen, American Hustle was awarded Best Picture by the New York Film Critics Circle. (My group, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, votes on Sunday.) I was a bit surprised at the announcement. It's not that I don't like American Hustle -- I think it's quite entertaining -- but it's also a bit flawed. Still, I cannot deny how much I enjoyed watching this comedy-drama hum along. My review is up at Screen International.

'Out of the Furnace' Review

Sometimes you learn something about yourself from the movies you see. For instance, I discovered from Out of the Furnace that I always want to spell "furnace" as "furnance." It's actually quite maddening: I instinctively type that second "n" and later realize it doesn't belong.

As for the movie itself, it's a solid, unremarkable follow-up from Scott Cooper, the director of Crazy Heart. Christian Bale leads a fine cast, and yet I confess that I'm not sure why Relativity decided to release Out of the Furnace in the heat of awards season. This movie is simply too modest and minor to stand out. I can't help but wonder if it might have enjoyed higher visibility elsewhere on the film calendar.

My Out of the Furnace review, which isn't concerned with release schedules or my spelling problems, is up at Deadspin.

Monday, December 02, 2013

The Best Movie Ensembles of 2013

For Backstage, new Executive Editor Mark Peikert and I wrote about the strongest ensemble films of the year. How is that different than the year's best films? Well, I suppose you could say that this list focuses more on movies that boast a collection of quality performances. (These aren't star vehicles by any stretch of the imagination.) Mark handled Part 1 of our rundown; I took the reins on Part 2.