Once again, I tried to see every 2013 movie nominated for an Oscar.
Jennifer Lawrence was once again praised for her performance but in my view, no, not this time. It actually wasn't that her performance was bad, but that she was completely miscast. Sorry, you're too young, you don't get to be married to balding con-man Christian Bale. She simply didn't look the part, and all the great acting in the world couldn't have bridged the gap.
The sudden appearance by De Niro was extremely distracting. It served to do little more than remind me of movies like Goodfells and The Godfather, which I'd think are comparisons David O'Russel would not wish to invite.
The most interesting character in the movie was Jeremy Renner's slimy congressman whose being slimy for legitimately altruistic reasons. But the movie treats him as an object, someone who exists to help explore the main characters. He's in the background for the most part, and it's a shame.
Overall I thought this movie was highly overrated. It was good and everything, I enjoyed it, but it didn't seem to have much to say and none of the characters were particularly engaging. I didn't particularly care about anyone in it or what was happening. The moment that got the most emotional reaction from me was actually when Bradley Cooper messed with Christian Bale's hairpiece after we saw him fixing it up for ten minutes.
American Hustle is decent but extremely forgettable.
That 70's Movie
Paul Greengrass has an extremely strong signature style. One that I, in fact, hate. The shaky-cam, the extremely close-ups, the insessant blurry-foreground objects in tight spaces. I just find it all kind of grating. And yet, I can't seem to help but like most of the dude's movies, this one included. While I find his directorial approach in the visuals department irritating, the guy's approach to storytelling is excellent. Captain Phillips, like United 93 before it, is extremely tense, edge-of-your-seat stuff.
I was only semi-familiar with the news events upon which the movie was based, I remember seeing headlines and stuff at the time, but I didn't really follow it. As a result, I actually didn't know how it was all going to turn out, so I was hooked.
The movie can easily be divided into three sections. First, where the pirates are trying to get onto the ship. This section was easily the most effective for me, I was completely enthralled. Sadly, it's the briefest section. Second, then the pirates are on the ship and the crew are trying to outsmart them. I liked this part quite a bit as well, and it was thankfully a bit longer.
Third, the pirates are off the ship with Captain Phillips as a hostage and the US Government is trying to handle the situation. This part dragged on forever, and I found it far less compelling and interesting. My National Guard Brother-in-Law loved it, so if you're super into military shit I guess it's fantastic.
I know this is a fucked up thing to say since these were actual events, but watching a team of elite Navy SEALs take on a group of 4 dumbass pirates simply isn't particularly interesting to me. It reminds me of when hunters go out into the woods armed with GPS trackers and thermal scans and sorts of crazy technology, just to kill a fucking deer. There's no balance there, how is this even a fair fight? I'm glad that Captain Phillips was rescued safely in real life, but watching gigantic Navy ships surround this tiny little boat with UAV drones flying overhead, thermal imaging, and expert marksman snipers just doesn't make for a very interesting movie.
David vs. Goliath stories are only interesting when you're rooting for David, because he's the underdog. But nobody was rooting for the pirates here, so you're just waiting for Goliath to stomp these guys out. It was much more fun watching the untrained, unarmed "union guys" try to defeat the armed, experienced pirates than it was to watch the US Navy crush them near-effortlessly. Around the halfway point, this movie goes from a 10 to a 5. So I'll take the average.
Incompetent pirates are defeated by random schmoes, then test their luck against highly trained Navy SEALs.
Dallas Buyers Club
Really enjoyed this movie. It just has one of those stories that instantly sucks you into it, where it could kind of go on for a long time and not feel long, much like Wolf of Wall St. Honestly the movie felt too short, too compressed, it seemed like things happened too quickly, especially once the Club was formed.
I was born in 1982, so this was a window into an aspect of recent history that I had very little exposure to. It was fun to watch, and I'm a sucker for stories of personal growth. I loved the way that McConaughey's homophobe character opened his mind, but honestly I thought it happened a little too quickly. Again, this comes back to parts of the movie feeling rushed, but it seemed like a guy so firmly entrenched in his beliefs would drag his feet a bit more.
McConaughey was absolutely fantastic, I kind of can't stand the way that the focus has been on his weight loss for the role, because honestly his acting was top-notch even without it. Leto was similarly excellent, though I actually found Jennifer Garner kind of out of place, I never really quite "bought" her. The scene where McConaughey initially doesn't believe she's a doctor is essential, Garner needed a moment to assert herself to pull this role off.
This movie a personal favorite, it dealt with sensitive subject matter without ever really seeming exploitative or cynical in any way. It is my understanding that the real-life Ron Woodroof wasn't anywhere near the homophobe that McConaughey's character was, and in fact was a married man with children, so it's kind of shitty to make it look like one of his greatest life achievements was overcoming personal hangups that the real-life man didn't actually have. But, it's a movie, loosely adapted, blah blah blah. I know. I just hope that when they make a movie about the contributions of the great Filmbagger, they don't decide to paint me as some kind of raging homophobe or something just so I can get some applause when I get over it.
Full blown aids
Hands down, my personal favorite movie of the year. I'm not going to argue that it's the best movie, and I'm well aware of all of the scientific inaccuracies, and I know about Neil deGrasse Tyson's Tweets and all that. But I still enjoyed this movie more than any other on the list, and it's the only one I plan on owning on Blu-ray.
Scientific inaccuracies have to be forgiven, because it's a movie and you need to create drama and tension. The only reason anyone is able to even nitpick on some of this stuff is because the movie is so extremely accurate to begin with, taking place in present day, near Earth. No aliens or robots or ships that miraculously have "gravity transmogriphiers" or some crap to explain why everyone is walking around like it's a movie set. It's actual space, in actual reality, which allowed people to treat it realistically, which means nitpicking. But to even be able to nitpick the movie at that level is a testament to how much it got right.
Yes, it's a little ridiculous that Sandra Bullock gets to go to space despite apparently completely hating it and not wanting the job, despite the hundreds of people who are far more qualified and actually want to go to space but don't get to. Yes, it's silly how wisecracking George Clooney totally maintains his cool the whole time, because of how totally super cool he is. And yes, yes, I get it, there was no force pulling Clooney away so him letting go to die is totally unnecessary. But guess what: I just saw Transformers and, can you believe it, no giant transforming robots EVER wrecked New York City, what an inaccurate piece of shit!
My point is, it's just a movie, and it's a damn, damn, damn good movie. I saw it in IMAX 3D, which is something I typically dislike, but it absolutely added to the experience. When Sandra Bullock was running low on oxygen, I felt myself having trouble breathing. I can't remember the last time a movie sucked me in this much, it wasn't so much a movie as it was some kind of insane theme park ride. I completely loved it, fuck the haters.
I have a soft spot for Sci-Fi that isn't action. It's kind of rare to have a science fiction them that doesn't use sci-fi as an excuse for a giant battle with aliens, but rather explores science fiction concepts. Sci-fi dramas are some of my favorite kinds of movies, and they're released so rarely that this movie pretty much gets an extra point from me simply for existing.
I love the worldbuilding that happens in Her. You get a completely sense of the future that exists in this movie, without having some narrator or dumb TV news anchor starting a report with "ever since the invention of the Operating System, a smart AI capable of learning..." as soon as a main character turns the TV on. The world is built completely naturally, and lots of stuff is left unexplained so you can simply fill in the blanks.
Stuff can get a little ridiculous at times. The surrogate scene was definitely straining my suspension of disbelief, I think the entire movie walks a very fine line and just barely avoids dipping into silliness. That scene was the closest it ever got, but I think Spike Jonze pulled it off. The way that ScarJo v1.0 discovers herself, wrestles with having no body, and eventually comes to terms with the limitations of her relationship is just excellent.
I love the way that Joaquin Phoenix's "relationship" ends up by the end of the movie, I love that he doesn't wind up with Amy Adams even though he should and I even kind of like the way he doesn't particularly learn anything from the experience. It's all just kind of depressing and nihilistic, it reminded me a lot of Being John Malkovich, one of my favorite movies of all time.
I did have to spent a long time convincing my wife that Joaquin Phoenix is not Tig from Sons of Anarchy. Aside from that, I really enjoyed this movie a lot.
Siri gains self-awareness, does not create army of Terminator robots
This was this year's "Amour" for me, the movie that I just put off seeing and had to force myself to watch. The whole black and white thing seems pretentious to me at this point, and the plot just didn't seem interesting from the trailer.
I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised. The black and white thing still was kind of pretentious, but I found myself not really noticing after a while. I was constantly noticing the focus shifting very slightly a little while after scenes would start, I have no idea if that was intentional or not.
My wife really liked the movie too. When it was over, her review was pretty simple: "awwww, it was a movie about a good son." Well said. It's a nice personal tale about a father and son, and a family of douchebags. It's kind of amazing how such a small story can contain characters that I hate even more than "super evil" bad guys in action movies who are trying to destroy all life on Earth. But when Forte's two fat cousins laughed for the 6th time about how long it took him to drive from Montana, I wanted to jump into the TV and strangle them. Bad guys grounded in reality, that remind you of shitheels from your own life, are so effective. And yeah, the third act contains one of the most satisfying punches to the face in a while.
Will Forte was surprisingly good, still somewhat comedic and genial, but convincing in a dramatic role. Bruce Dern, however, was phenomenal. He managed to perfectly walk that line of being a miserable, cranky old bastard while being likable. I also really loved the mom character, though I did find her to be slightly ridiculous at times.
It's a movie about a good son
This one really just didn't do it for me. I felt like it really dragged on, and I wanted to see where it was going, but it kept leading nowhere. I understand, the point was that Philomena was similarly disappointed by her search for her long-lost son, but it still made the film somewhat unengaging for me.
I thought there were a bunch of weird plot threads that didn't really go anywhere. Like when they meet the sister, she's extremely weird and cagey, so you're sort of led to believe something bad happened in their childhood, but it doesn't really go anywhere and you never see her again. Things like that happened a lot, it just seemed meandering and pointless.
Judi Dench was excellent, of course, playing a very conflicted individual, but aside from performances this just didn't resonate with me, I felt the writing was lackluster.
12 Years a Slave
My favorite part of this movie was the reaction it got out of me at two different points in time.
Spoiler: Early in the movie, when Chiwetel Ejiofor is first abducted, the boat he's on stops and one of the other men in his group is "claimed" by a white man. He's so glad to be "rescued" and he just runs away. My reaction this was complete anger, how could this guy just leave Chiwetel behind, without helping him at all? Say _something_ man, come on! Then Chiwetel continues on the rest of the movie, we see his life as a slave. Then at the very end, he's "claimed" as well, and hops into the car and takes off. Lupita Nyong'o's character is behind him, watching him go, and we see that he's doing do her _exactly_ what was done to him at the start of the movie. Except now, after seeing what he's gone through, my reaction is completely different. "Yeah man, forget her, save yourself, I get it."
It's rare to take an audience on a complete voyage where they question their own way of thinking. I think it speaks to the film's effectiveness and power, that I was able to think back to the version of myself that existed a mere two hours prior and think I was completely wrong before.
The movie isn't perfect. I actually found the parade-of-white-cameos approach kind of distracting, to be honest. First he's with Paul Giamatti, and then he vanishes and we get Benedict Cumberbatch and Paul Dano, then he's replaced by Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulson, and so on until finally he meets Brad Pitt, the one not-racist white person in the entire movie (by the way, fun fact: this movie was produced by Brad Pitt). I see what they were going for here, each transfer of Chiwetel to a different person gave him (and us) hope that he might be able to save himself, only to have those dreams dashed. I think it was effective emotionally, but the constant "oh hey, it's that guy!" effect of so many A-list stars playing each of these roles served as a distraction. I think it would have been more effective if less well-known actors had played those parts.
Benedict Cumberbatch's character was, by far, the most interesting of the white people. Dano and Fassbender were both just completely evil and remorseless. They were played similarly to Nazis, just the devil in human form, competely unsympathic and disgusting. I think it's easy to play a slaveowner or a nazi like a comic book supervillian, which is why I liked Cumberbatch's portrayal so much more. Cumberbatch did evil things, but he was not an evil man. There was a conflict, a nuance there that I really enjoyed. I wish more time could have been spent with Chiwetel at his house, just because I thought the relationship was an interesting one that I liked seeing on screen.
Also, Fassbender completely had a boner during that scene where he was looking for Lupita, right? Please tell me I'm not the only person who noticed Fassbender's dick during that scene.
Django Unchained, but without the satisfying revenge fantasy
The Wolf of Wall Street
This movie was just a complete blast to watch. It was far too long, clocking it at around three goddamn hours, but it didn't feel three hours long at all. The movie flew by, I easily could have watched another hour of it.
What more is there to say about this movie? Scorcese is a national treasure, one of the finest directors alive today, the man can take virtually any subject and make a fascinating movie about it. I really don't understand all of the "it encourages depravity" nonsense people are criticizing this film for, there wasn't any aspect of the lives portrayed that I found appealing. If dumb frat bros start celebrating this movie for the wrong reasons like they do "Fight Club" that really says more about them than it does the movie.
The scene where Leo and Jonah take the quaaluudes joins the pantheon of my all-time favorite scenes. Just completely unforgettable, shifting in tone between being funny and being disturbing, without feeling like it's inconsistent. Just masterfully done, worth the price of admission alone.
My biggest complaint is actually Matthew McConaughey. His character just didn't seem to fit with the rest of the movie for me, and I don't feel like he really added much. The scene in the restaurant with the chest-beating song and all that, as famous as it is now, I thought was completely out of place and silly. The fact that the trailer seemed to contain the entire scene, causing it to consume like 30% of the trailer's overall run-time, actually made me less interested in seeing the movie. I could have done without all of it, frankly.
Two friends go into business together
This was a damn fine year for movies, damn fine. I really enjoyed pretty much every movie nominated, though I do think Pacific Rim deserved at least a nomination for Visual Effects and Sound (though I know it would have lost).