Friday, January 10, 2014

Movies We Liked (and Didn't) in 2013

Dear George,
We go to the movies at least once a week, and I keep track by giving each one a letter grade. I think I like movies so much because they allow one to temporarily set aside their mundane everyday life and enter into worlds, events, and emotional states that they would never otherwise know: e.g., traveling in outer space, shootouts with gangsters, excursions to ancient China, romantic interludes, superheroes, even life tragedies.  Listed below are my favorite 15 movies that we saw in 2013, then a cluster of “runners up”, and finally my ten least favorites.  I should note that we only went to movies that got good reviews, so I actually liked all my “least favorites” too.  I’ve added Rotten Tomatoes ratings below as well.  All in all, 2013 was a pretty good year for movie-going. 

15 Favorites (in order)

(1) American Hustle.  Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper.  Loosely based on an actual happening, a con man and his seductive British partner are forced to work for a wild FBI agent who pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia.  A great ensemble cast, a solid mix of comedy and underlying tension, and a slam-bang ending.  Rotten Tomatoes: 94%; Blog: A.

(2) The Great Gatsby.  Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Toby Maguire.  In a cinema adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, set in Long Island in the 1920’s, a Midwesterner finds himself drawn to the lifestyle of his millionaire neighbor, only to conront obsession, madness, and tragedy.  The film creates an opulent jazz age world, tells a compelling tragic story, and provides Leonard DiCaprio with the vehicle for one of his best performances.  Rotten Tomatoes: 48%; Blog: A

(3) Blue Jasmine.  Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins.  After her life falls to pieces, including her marriage to wealthy businessman Hal, elegant New York socialite Jasmine heads to San Francisco, where she reconnects with her bumbling sister Ginger and struggles to pull herself back together again.  Woody Allen’s best in recent years, and, with her complex, layered portrait of an agonized Jasmine, Cate Blanchett is a top contender for the best actress Oscar.  Rotten Tomatoes: 89%; Blog: A.

(4) Dallas Buyers Club.  Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto.   A drug-taking, women loving, homophobic man is diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and smuggles anti-viral medications from around the world, creating the Dallas Buyers Club to provide the illegal medications to paying members throughout the country.  A powerful, compelling story and a remarkable performance by McConaughey.  Rotten Tomatoes, 94%; Blog: A.

(5) Nebraska.  Bruce Dern, Will Forte, Bob Odenkirk.  An elderly father is convinced he has won a million dollar magazine sweepstakes, and his son grudgingly agrees to drive him to Nebraska to claim his winnings.  Having spent lots of time with a parent during their final years, I connected with this funny, tragic movie on many levels.  Rotten Tomatoes: 91%; Blog: A.

(6) The Grandmaster (Yi dai zong shi).  Tony Leung, Ziya Zhang.  An action feature inspired by the life and times of legendary martial arts master Ip Man, spanning the tumultuous Republican era that followed the fall of China’s last dynasty and that also was the golden age of Chinese martial arts.  The cinematography ranks among the most stunning we’ve ever seen, and the intertwining stories of Ip Man and his unconsummated love Gong Er are spellbinding.  Rotten Tomatoes: 72%; Blog: A.

(7) The Hunt (Jagten).  Mads Mikkelsen, Susse Wold.  A divorced former school teacher's life is shattered when a child’s lie throws his small community into a state of hysteria, and he is forced to fight a lonely fight for his life and dignity.  The Scandinavians are the masters of angst, and it all comes forth in this gut-wrenching tragic tale.  Rotten Tomatoes: 94%; Blog: A.

(8) Hyde Park on Hudson.  Bill Murray, Laura Linney.  The Roosevelts host the King and Queen of England for a weekend at Hyde Park, producing not only a special relationship between the nations but a deeper understanding of the mysteries of love, marriage, and friendship.  Warm, comic, intriguing, insightful, a superb cast – the critics got it all wrong.  Rotten Tomatoes: 38%; Blog: A.

(9) 20 Feet from Stardom.  (Documentary)  Darlene Love.  The true story of the backup singers beyond musical legends, e.g, Springsteen, Jagger, Sting, Stevie Wonder.  The music is terrific, the personal stories heartwarming and/or heartbreaking – not to be missed.  Rotten Tomatoes: 98%; Blog: A. 

(10) Wadjda. Waad Mohammed, Reem Abdullah.  A 10 year old girl living in a suburb of the capital of Saudi Arabia is determined to continue fighting for her dreams.  A compelling expose of the cultural oppression of Middle Eastern girls and women combined with a statement of hope for the future.  Rotten Tomatoes: 98%; Blog: A-. 

(11) Quartet.  Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon.   The home for retired musicians is about to host a new resident who turns out to be a famous quartet’s former singing partner whose career as a star soloist split up their friendship.  A sentimental tribute to music and the potential for the love of life to continue well into old age.  Rotten Tomatoes: 80%; Blog: B+. 

(12) Inside Llewyn Davis.  Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan.  Directed by Ethan and Joel Cohen.  A young folk singer struggles against seeming insurmountable odds to make it as a musician in the Greenwich Village folk scene in 1961.  The film brings the character and his world to life effectively, but the bleak depiction of loneliness, rejection, harshness, and unrelenting pain is draining.  Rotten Tomatoes: 94%; Blog: B+.

(13) The Attack.  Ali Suliman.  An Israeli Palestinian surgeon's life is turned upside down after a suicide bombing which the police say his dead wife was responsible for.  A powerful, disturbing portrayal of the seemingly irresolvable conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and the assimilated Israeli Arab whose life is destroyed as a consequence.  Rotten Tomatoes: 93%; Blog: B+.

(14) The Angels' Share.  Paul Brannigan, John Henshaw.  Narrowly avoiding jail, new dad Robbie vows to turn over a new leaf and a visit to a whisky distillery inspires him and his mates to change their hopeless lives.  A successful mix of comedy and gritty realism that brings a tear to the eye and appreciation for the power of caring and support.  Rotten Tomatoes: 88%; Blog: B+. 

(15) The Gatekeepers (Shomerei Ha'saf).  (Documentary)  Five former heads of Israel's Secret Service reflect on their successes and failures to maintain security in the face of violence flaring up in the Gaza Strip.  Simultaneously engaging and depressing, the film offers a remarkable insider’s look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the complicated mission of anti-terrorism.  Rotten Tomatoes: 91%; Blog: B+.

The Runners-Up:  (16) The Lone Ranger; (17) Stories We Tell; (18) Man of Steel; (19) Brooklyn Castle; (20) A Royal Affair; (21) Philomena; (22) Saving Mr. Banks; (23) This is the End; (24) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire; (25) Fruitvale Station; (26) Lee Daniel’s The Butler; (27) Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues; (28) Thor: The Dark World; (29) Rush; (30) Hitchcock; (31) Inequality for All; (32) Short Term 12; (33) Amour; (34) Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel; (35) Enough Said; (36) The Counselor; (37) Elysium; (38) The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug; (39) Frances Ha; (40) Ann Karenina; (41) 42; (43) Side Effects.            

My Least Favorites

(44) Prisoners.  Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal.  When a father's 6 year old daughter and her friend go missing and the police release the only suspect, the father decides he has no choice but to take matters into his own hands.  An emotionally intense mystery, but it’s dreary and depressing and one wonders what the moral of the story is.  Rotten Tomatoes: 82%; Blog: B-.

(45) Mud.  Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon.  Two boys find a man named Mud hiding out from bounty hunters on an island in the Mississippi and agree to help him escape with the love of his life, Juniper.  A slow-moving kids’ adventure story set in a bleak world with a barely promising message about life’s prospects. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%; Blog: B-.   

(46) On the Road.  Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart.  Based on Jack Kerouac's novel, Sal Paradise, Dean Moriarty, and Dean's girlfriend Marylou travel cross-country on a personal quest for freedom from conformity.  Captures the tone of what was the bible of my college generation, though I’m not sure I’d want to pursue the life style as much as I did at age 20.  Rotten Tomatoes: 56%; Blog: B- .

(47) The Wolverine.  Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima.  Wolverine’s adventures in Japan as he fights ninjas in the ceremonial garb of the samurai.  Hugh Jackman makes a splendid superhero, but the plot and presentation are awfully comic-bookish.  Rotten Tomatoes: 68%; Blog = C+. 
(48) Gangster Squad.  Sean Penn, Josh Brolin.  In 1949 L.A. mob king Mickey Cohen runs the show in town, intimating all except a secret crew of LAPD outsiders who come together to tear Cohen's world apart.  A styled, period action thriller which holds one’s attention, but the comic book flavor and ultra-violence leave little depth for the characters.  Rotten Tomatoes: 33%; Blog: C+. 

(49) Iron Man 3.  Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow.   When Tony Stark's world is torn apart by the terrorist Mandarin, he starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution.  Terrific special effects are countered by a boring and senseless plot.  Rotten Tomatoes: 84%; Blog: C.

(50) Gravity.  Sandra Bullock, George Clooney.  A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.  Special effects and cinematics are magnificent, but the lack of a story and any meaningful character development leave this flick in empty space.  Rotten Tomatoes: 98%; Blog: C.  (

(51) World War Z.  Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos.  U.N. employee Gerry Lane traverses the world to stop a zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and threatening to decimate humanity itself.  Hordes of disgusting zombies, one worse than the next, and it’s puzzling to figure out who they represent – maybe right-wing Republicans.  Rotten Tomatoes: 67%; Blog: C.

(52) The Impossible.  Naomi Watts, Ewen McGregor.  A family begin their winter vacation in Thailand when a terrifying roar rises from the center of the earth as a tsunami’s wall of black water races toward them.  Let’s you know what it’s like to live through a tsunami, though the problem with true stories is that they lack the fantasy that Hollywood is capable of.  Rotten Tomatoes: 78%; Blog: C.

(53) A Good Day to Die Hard.  Bruce Willis, Mary Elizabeth Winstead.  John McClane travels to Russia to help out his son, only to discover that Jack is a CIA operative working to prevent a nuclear-weapons heist.  This movie rates near the top for car and helicopter chases, explosions, and assault gun shootouts, but unfortunately that’s all there is.  Rotten Tomatoes: 16%; Blog: C-. 

G-mail Comments
-Linda C (1-10-14): Going to see " her" this weekend, did you see 
" the last quartet".  My fav of the year.   Hated Nebraska . I go about once a week with friends…  Love to both of you
Oh , blue jasmine one of my favorites too.

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