From superhero flicks to art house fare, it was an excellent year
I don’t like the term top movies of the year. Defining them as your favorite movies is more on point, but if you’re a film critic you are not supposed to whine about how movie taste is subjective, not objective.
Since I proudly call myself “The Moviejunkie,” my list tends to be a mix of highbrow and mass entertainment fare. This was certainly a vintage year for superhero movies and my list represents that, as well as the dramas I favor, some remarkable sci-fi entries and a bunch of buff guys shaking their booty with relish.
Here then are 10 movies that entertained us, made us think or just took us on an incredible ride. They are in alphabetical order, but for the record my absolute favorites were The Avengers, Cloud Atlas, Silver Linings Playbook and Django Unchained. Hit the linked titles for the full reviews.
Joss Whedon unleashed a ton of unadulterated popcorn movie fun with his marvelous multi-superhero extravaganza. It’s everything you would expect from a comic book adaptation that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it delivers plenty of action along with an equal amount of superhero temper tantrums. The wisecracks back and forth are so dead-on hilarious, I imagined that Serenity captain Malcolm Reynolds was just out of the frame feeding the Avengers his best one-upmanship zingers.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this trippy science-fiction epic from directors Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and Lana and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix). Based on the novel of the same name, the film stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant. The actors play multiple characters in elaborate makeup in six different story lines that travel back and forth in time. The deeper we go, the more these different threads wind together into a tale of humanity’s flaws and the search for meaning in the universe. It is a lot funnier (in a good way) than the summation suggests.
Some would say being a Quentin Tarantino fan is a matter of taste, or perhaps in some minds, it’s a matter of being swayed by his utter tastelessness. Put me in Camp Tarantino every day and twice on Sunday. Django Unchained pays homage to the title character of the spaghetti western Django, but then goes full bore Tarantino on his ass. The bloodletting is so extreme it slides into the realm of cartoon violence, but there is a point to this display. The violence shown against the slaves is brutal without the cartoon element. We are reminded that this troubling display is a core element of our true, shameful history. Tarantino whips his version of history into frenzied exploitation unfettered by any sense of decorum, but that doesn’t mean it lacks validity. Tarantino’s blood-soaked ambiance is perfectly in tune with the more serious undercurrents in his spectacularly enjoyable film.
The riveting footage that shows helpless human beings slammed by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami is breathtaking and so authentic, you feel the terror of the characters. A thrilling, agonizing tale about a family literally torn asunder by the raging waters, Oscar-worthy elements including great acting by Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, and newcomer Tom Holland. Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage), this real life disaster film, based on true accounts, recreates the horror of that wall of water as well as the aftermath and the desperate search for loved ones.
Steven Spielberg knows how to make an epic movie infused with an intimate feel. With a screenplay by playwright Tony Kushner, the film highlights the final four months of Lincoln’s life. Surrounded by a cast full of familiar faces (David Strathairn, Tommy Lee Jones, Jackie Earle Haley, Jared Harris, Hal Holbrook, Bruce McGill, Gloria Reuben, Michael Stuhlbarg), Daniel Day-Lewis gives a performance worthy of the legendary statesman. This is the Lincoln we’ve learned about in school — gentle yet forceful when needed, brilliant as a politician and sometimes overwhelmed by the demands of family when he must focus on being the president of a nation divided. Spielberg and company have done Lincoln proud.
On the surface this is a glitzy, titillating look at the world of male strippers with hunky men shaking their booty and other body parts in the face of ladies looking for a cheap thrill. Look deeper, however, and you see it afforded Steven Soderbergh a chance to return to his roots when he rocked the festival circuit/independent film scene with sex, lies and videotape. Soderbergh’s film most closely resembles Boogie Nights in its depiction of an alternative lifestyle world in which the participants don’t understand that how they live horrifies the people beyond their inner circle.
As a stand-alone film, Retaliation is a mindless collection of action-set pieces, only one of which is visually interesting, a ninja battle that takes place with trapeze artists/soldiers flying across the face of a mountain.
This is an exciting year for predicting the Oscars because except for a couple of mortal locks, it is a wide-open battle in the major races. So let the speculation begin. I’ve decided to weigh in with a weekly series of articles on the Academy Awards, which will be handed out on Sunday, Feb. 24.
Watching Arnold Schwarzenegger run around as a way-over-the-hill action hero in The Last Stand got me thinking about who are the top action heroes in the movies these days. While I was looking for some of the younger stars, I had to include one veteran who can still pull off being a badass.
Now that the Academy Awards were announced yesterday (Jan. 10), moviegoers locally will finally get a chance to see two of the nominated films, the hunt for bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty and the hunt for survivors after the horrifying 2004 tsunami in The Impossible.
While in general the Academy Award nominations went as expected, the two exceptions were jaw dropping: No best director nomination for Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) and no best actor nod for John Hawkes (The Sessions). Both of these omissions really have me steamed.
While there are the usual stone-cold lock Oscar nominees this year, the Academy is jumping the gun with its early announcement of nominations. This was done because the Academy members were sick and tired of all the other awards like the Golden Globes watering down the Oscar excitement by announcing its winners before the Oscar nominations were even released.
I’ve been a crafty film critic over the decades, which means I have learned to avoid movies that look horrible in the coming attractions. Of course some movies featuring major stars and high profiles simply can’t be avoided.
While admitting this is damning with faint praise, Sylvester Stallone delivers a better aging action hero in Bullet to the Head than Arnold Schwarzenegger did in Last Stand.
There was some history made at the 2013 Academy Awards and if Captain Kirk comes back from the future with an Oscar headline regarding host Seth MacFarlane, it will read: He didn’t suck. This was an Oscar evening that shared the good vibrations around in an appropriate manner.
Like most people outside Chicago, I first saw and heard Roger Ebert talk about movies on the PBS television show Sneak Previews opposite another Chicago newspaper critic, Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune in 1975. As the critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, that made them rivals, and the show had an undercurrent of that rivalry as they passionately discussed movies and provided their thumbs up and thumbs down critiques.