Entries in Top 10 Movies (4)

Tuesday
May072019

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2019: OUR TOP TEN PICKS

BY MATEO MORENO

The 2019 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL had an amazing lineup this year, and we were lucky enough to be there for every step! Below, we've compiled our own TOP TEN list from this years Festival. Keep checking back here for full reviews of all of the below films and many more throughout the week. 

 

10) LOW TIDE - Eerie and moody, first time filmmaker Kevin McMullin has crafted a wonderful throwback film, one that feels like it could have been made 20 years ago or yesterday. In other words: timeless. LOW TIDE is part coming-of-age, part treasure hunt and shows true promise from this rookie of the screen. The film follows three teens in a summer lake vacationing town in New Jersey who spend each night breaking into Summer homes and grabbing all the loot they can get without getting caught. But when one of the teens Alan finds a real bag of treasure: a bag of gold coins. From that point on, the curse of the treasure follows them and the film jumps between a style that seems mixed with THE GOONIES and a suspenseful coming-of-age tale. The main cast of Keean Johnson, Jaeden Martel, Alex Neustaedter, and Daniel Zolghadri are all fantastic here and the cinematography by Andre Ellmaker is stunning. A wild Summer on the shore for sure.

 

9) WILD ROSE - The spectacular Jessie Buckley radiates on the screen as Rose-Lynn Harlan, a down and out singer in Glasgow who's just been released from Prison. She has two children that she doesn’t know what to do with and a Mother who resents her lack of responsibility for her family. But she also has a voice that is screaming to be heard, and a dream of heading to Nashville to make it big. And her employer Susannah (Sophie Okonedo) plans to help her make it there. Director Tom Harper and Screenwriter Nicole Taylor create a vivid, wild ride of a musical that is supported by a fantastic cast. The story is beautiful and heartbreaking and Buckley is a true star. You'll cheer for her and then download the soundtrack when you get home (which, by the way, is available now).

 

8) THE PLACE OF NO WORDS - The question, "Where do we go when we die" is innocent enough, and in Mark Webber's film THE PLACE OF NO WORDS it comes from his son Bodi Palmer's mouth. What Bodi doesn't know is that his father is dying, and doesn't know how to break it to his precocious son. So he takes him on an imaginary, fantastical journey of escapism, where they are two sword and shield wielding knights running into trolls, fairies and witches along the way. The dialogue seems almost improvised and off the cuff, but brimming with power, and there's a reason for that. Writer/Director/Star Webber cast his real life wife Teresa Palmer and his real life son Brodie as his family here, and in less qualified hands it could end up being a self-indulgent mess. But here it works beautifully if you let it wash over you. It's not an easy sit and constantly challenges you but it's well worth it. And at 95 minutes, it never overstays it's welcome. Beautiful and poetic, it's a visually stunning (thanks to cinematographer Patric Lucien Cochet) and wonderfully original film.

 

7) STANDING UP, FALLING DOWN - This earnest and honest film wears its heart on its sleeve, but that's not a bad thing. It's a buddy comedy with an unlikely duo: Ben Schwartz and Billy Crystal. Schwartz plays Scott, a stand-up comedian who is forced to move back home and back in with his parents. His Mother is thrilled; his father is less so. Immediately he hopes to strike up a connection with Becky, the girl he left behind (Eloise Mumford). But what he didn't see coming is the thing that ends up affecting him the most: an unlikely connection and friendship with his dermatologist Marty (Crystal). Marty is also a barfly who's hard partying ways have left a rift between him and his family, but he immediately bonds to the younger Marty, seeing both a son-like figure and a friend. They need each other and just the exact right time in their lives. Schwartz turns in a charming and gentle lead performance, while Crystal knows just how to play the charming boozer; he never overplays a scene, hitting all the right cords. The supporting cast is all perfectly cast, from the sarcastic snips of Grace Gummer, the heartfelt beats by Eloise Mumford and Caitlin McGee and the riled up pain of Nate Corddry's left behind son. STANDING UP, FALLING DOWN is warm, personal, and touching. It's an old fashioned tale that feels just right, right now.

 

6) PLUS ONE - Truly the most winning romantic comedy I've seen in quite a while, PLUS ONE is incredibly funny and heartfelt film, anchored with two of the most winning leads in years: Jack Quaid and Maya Erskine. Brought to us by two of the writers of Erskine's Hulu series PEN15, the plot follows Ben and Alice (Quaid, Erskine), two college friends who have entered "Wedding season," and they have friend after friend getting married. So they decided to team up and be each other’s plus ones. Sure, we as the audience can immediately see that they are perfect for each other, but of course they don't. And though that set up is a typical rom-com troupe, the twists and turns are unexpected and the dialogue is naturally hilarious. Both Quaid and Erskine have fantastic chemistry, and if you're a PEN15 fan, you'll be happy to know that there is indeed a very funny cameo by Anna Konkle. This is one wedding season that you will definitely want to be a part of.

 

5) SWALLOW - The act of swallowing dangerous items such as batteries, tacks, and marbles is something that baffles most people. But it is a real disorder and one that ends up enveloping Hunter (Haley Bennett) a young pregnant trophy wife at the center of SWALLOW. Her husband (Austin Stowell) is on the rise at his father's company and she is the stay at home perfect image of a housewife. But deep down she knows she doesn't want this life and feels trapped. She wants to regain a sense of control and strangely it all begins when she has a sudden impulse to swallow a small marble. When she's able to recover it a couple of days later, she begins to swallow more and more things, leading to darker and darker consequences. Carlo Mirabella-Davis's slow burning drama is a film that you can't put in any particular box, and that's exactly what he wants. You can't fully describe it: You simply have to see it. Haley Bennett turns in a stunning and powerful performance that simply won't leave your mind anytime soon, nor will the images that occur, even if you want them to.

 

4) AT THE HEART OF GOLD - Dr. Larry Nasser is a monster, and he was a monster in sheep's clothing. He preyed upon the innocence and trust of young girls with Olympic dreams. For literal decades, Nasser sexually assaulted at least 250 young girls and at least 1 boy and it wasn't until 2016 that he was finally outed, after decades of abusing young children. Erin Lee Carr's powerful and infuriating documentary chronicles the entire tale of bringing him to justice, showcasing the brave women who stood up and refused to be quiet, and the corrupt organization of USA Gymnastics that sheltered and protected him. It is a terribly upsetting watch, one that made me well up with tears just as many times as my fists clinched with anger. But it's an important story to tell, and one that proves we still have a long way to go in protecting our children from the monster next door.

 

3) LUCE - Racial stereotypes are at the forefront of Director Julius Onah's feature LUCE, and it crackles with intensity and suspense. A fantastic Kevin Harrison Jr. plays Luce, a top of his class high school honors student. His past is filled with horror: he was a child soldier in Eritrea and was rescued and adopted from that world by a loving set of adoptive parents, played to perfection by Naomi Watts and Tim Roth. Luce knows that he's fortunate, but he's also claustrophobic: he has to live in a box of perfection, never stepping outside of those lines. His parents, his school, and his teachers all expect it and he knows it. He's not judged the same as his other black schoolmates, who are often labeled as delinquents. And his unraveling makes this drama turn into a searing thriller that is as mysterious as it is powerful. Octavia Spencer also turns in a subtle performance as a demanding teacher who may have overstepped her bounds with Luce. Revealing any more about the film would run the wonderful surprise of it all and I won't do that here. But know that LUCE is one of the most surprising and powerful films you'll see this year.

 

2) SEE YOU YESTERDAY - Not every time traveling adventure needs a DeLoreon or one single Infinity Stone. Sometimes you just need two ingenious kids with a passion for science and adventure mixed with a story of strong social commentary. In Stefon Bristol's thrillingly original feature film debut, produced by Spike Lee, Eden Duncan-Smith and Danté Crichlow are both fantastic as CJ and Sebastian, the two teens who are ready to set their future aflame with their invention. But what starts with their first trip aimed at a fun trip back in time molds into them coming back into a present where CJ's brother Calvin (a strong Brian "Stro" Bradley) is mistaken for another and shot dead by Police. The family is in mourning, but CJ has another plan: they go back in time to stop her brother from being shot. And thus begins their journey to save Calvin. Mixing social commentary with sci-fi works stunningly well here, and the film mixes both a fun tone and a powerful dramatic one. Director and co-writer Stefon Bristol expanded his short film into this remarkably well, and the result is a powerful meditation on love, loss, and time travel. Complete with a splendid cameo from everyone's favorite time traveler himself.

 

1) BUFFALLOED - To say that Zoey Deutch's star turn in BUFFALLOED is a star making turn is truly putting it mildly. Deutch is an amazing force of nature in Director Tanya Wexler's crime spree comedy, and take a character that is truly a mixed bag of emotions and keeps you on her side the entire film. Peg Dahl (Deutch) is a young woman who since childhood has strived to use her business sense and fearlessness to make a name for herself in the business world. But her fearlessness as an adult has landed her in jail. She's now out and is looking for a fresh start. After being hassled by a debt collector on the phone, she turns the tables on him and shows up to their offices, joining their team and quickly rising to the top as their top collector. The collective cast of Judy Greer, Noah Reid, Jai Courtney, and Jermaine Fowler all turn in fantastic supporting turns. And enough good cannot be said about Zoey Deutch. She is phenomenal and even if the film wasn't great, her performance alone would make this a must see. Hilarious and heartfelt, with a not so suble wink towards the flawed debt industry, BUFFALLOED is a true winner.

Tuesday
Jan132015

LOOKING BACK ON 2014: MY TOP 10 MOVIES (AND BOTTOM 5)

BY MATEO MORENO

Only TEN movies?! How to pick, how to pick... When I started to compile this list, I knew for sure a lot of films would definitely be there. How could Richard Linklater's masterful Boyhood not be there? Check! And Jim Jarmusch's cool as a cucumber Only Lovers Left Alive? Double check! And what about the truly hilarious LEGO Movie, Big Hero 6, & Obvious Child? Wait, I haven't even started talking about The Imitation Game? Yes, there were A LOT of great movies to come out this year. So after much consideration, here is my TOP 10. One film that barely misses the mark is the quitely powerful Hide Your Smiling Faces. It's hurting and tender and...actually came out in some areas in 2013. So I'm not counting it. But these TEN I am (along with 5 real stinkers....)

 

TOP TEN BEST OF 2014

10) GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – James Gunn’s gonzo Sci-Fi epic is the weirdest, strangest, and most out there Marvel movie yet. And it’s also one of the best. With the inspired casting of Chris Pratt, the rag tag gang of Peter Quill and company became a monster hit against all odds (seriously, what message board out there DIDN’T predict that this was where Marvel’s hit streak ended?!). Great voice acting by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel add to the rest of the cast of Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Turo. Add on a fantastic soundtrack and jokes that are actually funny, and you’ve got a summer movie worth fighting for.

 

9) INHERENT VICE – Bizarre? Definitely. Hard to follow? At times. Brilliant? You betcha. Paul Thomas Anderson continues his hot streak of wildly different films with his first “caper,” set in the 1970’s and based on the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name. No one is better suited to dive head first into this unorthodox film than Joaquin Phoenix and he gives a hilarious and inspired performance as Larry “Doc” Sportello, a Los Angeles detective investigating the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend and as he gets deeper and deeper (and higher and higher) he gets in way over his head, yet still comes out swinging each time. Great ensemble performances by Josh Brolin, Martin Short, Katherine Waterson, & slyly narrated by Joanna Newsom. It may take you two viewings to fully digest this dinner (actually I suggest two; there’s just so much to see) but if you’re willing, you’re going to have a blast.

 

8) THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING – An extraordinary man deserves an extraordinary film. And that’s exactly what Stephen Hawking gets here. James Marsh beautifully directs the story of how Hawking went from a genius student to a lovesick boy who soon was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease and unable to eventually move. Through his brilliance, we see how he found a way to keep on talking and sharing his thoughts with the world. Eddie Redmayne is simply astonishing as Hawking, mastering both his personality and his crippling disease with such a physical transformation it almost hurts to watch. Felicity Jones is equally as impressive playing Jane Hawking, his loving wife who stood by him while others were slowly walking away. Steely and sturdy, Jones shines in a wonderful role. All the way through the tear jerking end, Theory continues to astonish.

 

7) INTO THE WOODS – I had high hopes for this Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical adaptation. Then I had doubts. Excited when the first trailer came out, and then nervous as I started reading “chatter.” Finally I resigned myself to the notion that it will be what it will be and to just wait for judgment. Luckily, I had nothing to worry about. Rob Marshall’s adaptation is sublime, perfectly balancing Sondheim and Lapine’s mix of wonder and darkness. Of course Meryl Streep shines as The Witch, but those pipes?!!! Now that was a wonderfully pleasant surprise. Anna Kendrick is great as Cinderella (and oh how I really can’t wait to see her tackle Jason Robert Brown now in February’s The Last Five Years), Johnny Depp is deliciously creepy as The Wolf, and the duo of Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen are comic gold. But the true heart and soul are with James Corden and Emily Blunt’s Baker and his wife. They sing beautifully and hit all the right emotional notes. Plus, any movie that includes not only Lucy Punch but also Tracey Ullman deserves to be in my Top 10 anyday.

 

6) INTERSTELLAR– Christopher Nolan’s movie divided people intensely into two camps; the “How beautiful and epic” camp and the “What drivel. Seriously? A bookcase?!” camp. I was in the first and though I do understand those who pushed it away, I cannot. It proudly wears its heart on its sleeve and isn’t afraid to be old fashioned, sometimes cheesy, and simply be about “love” and all the magnificent forms it takes. Matthew McConaughey is great here, alternately daring and heartbreaking, and Anne Hathaway actually doesn’t annoy you. So that’s something. There’s too many surprises that should be left that way, so I won’t spoil any of them. But I will say that the video messages McConaughey watches aboard the space craft in the middle section of the movie is one of the most heart wrenching moments in cinema this year. Honest and true, epic in scale, I ate up every single moment (and there were a lot of them in the 3 hour running time).

 

5) A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT – Iranian-American filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour turns her award winner short film into a feature and has created one of the most original visions in quite some time. A self described “Iranian Vampire Spaghetti Western,” it follows a young 19 year old girl who stalks the streets of the Iranian ghost town called “Bad City.” No one is aware that a Vampire is in their mist, and she watches people, selecting her prey carefully. Her loneliness can be felt sinking through the quiet performance of Sheila Vand. Mood and atmosphere fill out the empty spaces more than plot twists and turns, and it unfolds into a wonderfully original film, shot in glorious black and white. It reminded me of another great Vampire film, also from this year, Only Lovers Left Alive. That film barely missed making my Top 10 but is also a searing and original portrait of vampires that haven’t been told yet. Find this film. You’ll be glad you did.

 

4) SELMA– It’s almost unbelievable that a movie about Martin Luther King Jr. has NEVER been made. Thankfully, Director Ava DuVernay focuses the film not on his entire life but the very important years of gaining the right to vote as an African American man. David Oyelowo is marvelous as Dr. King, truly “becoming” the man right before your eyes. His performance is intense, bold, and daring. Carmen Ejogo is wonderful as well, playing his loving & supportive (but not blind) wife Coretta Scott King. She fills up the character with so much warmth, love, and power that you would swear she actually was Coretta. Haunting and powerful (especially so close to all the horrifying news stories as of late), Selma is most important movie out now.

 

3) THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL– Wes Anderson has made good films. He has made great films. Hell, he’s even made great commercials. But now, with The Grand Budapest Hotel, he has made his masterpiece. Ralph Fiennes plays M. Gustave, a concierge whose life becomes increasingly difficult after the passing of his friend Madame D. It’s truly one of the highlights of his career. His performance is comic joy. His sidekick always by his side is Toni Revolori, hilarious as he is faithful. As with all of Anderson’s best films the supporting characters are out of this world, from Jason Schwartzman to Jeff Goldblum (always game to be a goofball) to a delirious Willem Dafoe. It zips and zings along with incredible cinematography by Robert Yeoman, inspired directing by Anderson, and the most fun cast of the year.

 

2) WHIPLASH – To create a movie, essentially about becoming the best you can be in a college band, and to turn it into a psychological thrill ride is the mark of true genius. Writer/Director Damien Chazelle is that genius. Lengthening his short film that put him on the map at Sundance, Chazelle places his trust in a determined Miles Teller and a deranged and brilliant J.K. Simmons and creates a true masterwork. Teller portrays the young gifted Andrew as someone who might very well be the next “big thing” with a grace and ease that many seasoned performers strive to have all their careers. It’s truly the mark of bigger and better things coming from him. J.K. Simmons gives the performance of a lifetime (and that’s saying something after witnessing his sadistic turn on HBO’s “OZ”) and his angry outbursts and truly terrifying, hilarious, and unsettling. Where the story goes next is anyone’s guess, which makes the entire thing feel like a slow and steady thriller. Bravo indeed.

 

1) BIRDMAN (OR THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) – Rarely do you ever see a film like Birdman. Its wondrous direction by Alejandro González Iñárritu may at first seem like a stunt (it’s almost entirely shot in one location in one seemingly long uninterrupted shot), but that trick soon opens up a world of filmmaking magic. It livens the cast and pulls you into each and every shot, as if you’re part of this delirious fever dream of Riggan Thomas (Michael Keaton). Edward Norton gives one of the most assured, steely performances in years and Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, and Zach Galifianakis all give strong support. But Michael Keaton just dominates the screen and you can feel him screaming, “I’ve been waiting. THIS is my time.” The film is incredibly meta, strange, surreal, and unlike any other movie you’ll see for quite a while.

 

BOTTOM FIVE MOVIES OF 2014

5) WISH I WAS HERE – Funded by a Kickstarter campaign and Written/Directed by the indie steward Zach Braff, Wish I Was Here is a draining exercise of “too much mood” and “too little time on the actual screenplay.” I’m a fan of Braff’s, but almost instantly I hated him here. Smug and entitled, his characters entire crisis is that his kids may not be able to go to private school. Not a great dramatic arc. At least Mandy Patinkin and young Joey King turn in a few good scenes. However the movie sinks into the oblivion of bad indie very quickly. Save yourself.

 

4) JUST A SIGH – Have you ever seen Richard Linklater’s brilliant trilogy of Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, & Before Midnight? Well this is the Lifetime version. Director Jérôme Bonnell takes his two leads (Emmanuelle Devos & Gabriel Byrne) and sets them on a train. They accidentally meet, she starts to stalk romantically follow him to a funeral and love kinda blooms as they walk around and talk, occasionally stopping to have sex. Not that they have anything interesting to say. Devos’ performance is entirely grating and Byrne seems really interested in finding out if the film is going to get better. It doesn’t. Le Sigh.

 

3) THE BOXTROLLS – Truly one of the most bizarre animated films to come along in quite a while. Not quite for kids and definitely not for adults, the film seems to have no idea who it’s aiming to please. The plot is very strange for strange sake (the main villian's main goal is to hang out with the cool kids and eat cheese all day. And he's alergic. Yup). The entire first half of the film drags along as if we’re watching a snail race animated in front of our eyes. And the stop motion animation is dark and not entirely pleasant to watch. Skip this and rent Coraline instead.

 

2) VENUS IN FUR - David Ives’s play Venus in Fur first premiered Off Broadway in 2010 to a sold out run and quickly transferred to a celebrated, and Tony winning run on Broadway. Lead by the firecracker Nina Arianda, it was sexy, thrilling, mysterious, and ultimately a beautiful theatre experience. So leave it to exhiled filmmaker Roman Polanksi to screw it all up. His film version replaces the American locals for France, which is fine, and shoots it in French, which is also fine, but the play has a very sarcastic American humor to it, which is lost completely in the film. Gone too is the sexiness and the seduction, replaced by goofy flirting and broad comic strokes from Emmanuelle Seigner. Sorry mi lady, but you are no Arianda.

 

1) MALEFICENT – Quite possibly one of the biggest missed opportunities of the year, Maleficent had all the makings of a great big budget action adventure. It had Angelina Jolie, perfectly cast. It had an intriguing villain who EVERYONE loves to hate. And it was going to tell an opposite side of the Sleeping Beauty story but this time from the villain’s perspective? Count me in! Sadly, it’s entirely a bungled mess, starting with making her a good guy, not a villain, a weird babysitter to Aurora while she’s asleep, WAY too many goofy special effects, and a pointless weird backstory that goes nowhere. Oh, and you know how cool it was that she turns into a dragon in the film? Nope, that’s gone too, replaced by her turning her man servant into the monstrous beast. At least Jolie and Sharlto Copley as the Mad King look like they’re having fun. Because I sure wasn’t.

MATEO MORENO is an actor, playwright, and director in New York City. He owns and runs TheArtsWireWeekly.com and has had four of his plays produced, including BOHEMIAN VALENTINE, HAPPILY AFTER TONIGHT, WITHIN OUR WALLS, & LOVES ME LIKE A ROCK. He is currently working with Boomerang Theatre on a short play piece, workshopping a new musical, and spends his days working on Broadway hits like MATILDA and IT'S ONLY A PLAY.

Sunday
Jan122014

THE ARTSWIRE'S FAVORITE FILMS OF 2013

BY MATEO MORENO

 

 

 

 

BY LIZ WHITTEMORE

 

 

 

 

Looking back on 2013, one thing is clear: it was a GREAT year for movies.  There were fantastic Hollywood films, fantastic indies, breathtaking foreign films, and touching documentaries.  And the performances?!  One gem after another.  We couldn't include ALL of the great films of this year (Blue Jasmine, Greetings from Tim Buckley to name a couple) and several of our Film Festival favorites won't be released until later in 2014 (hello Hide Your Smiling Faces & Only Lovers Left Alive)!  However, here are "The ArtsWire's" Picks for the best of 2014, in two VERY different opinions.

MATEO'S TOP 10


1) HER (R) - Spike Jonze has crafted an extrodinary and utterly original film with Her and you feel more and more alive watching each and every moment.  Joaquin Phoenix is sublime as Theodore Twombly, a young man in the not so distant future searching for love and finding it, but not with a human.  Amy Adams turns in a great supporting turn and just with her voice, Scarlett Johansson is passionate, sexy, and compelling.  Romantic, wistful, and expertly crafted, Her will linger with you LONG after you leave.

 

2) GRAVITY (PG-13) - Never before has a film brough such a true feeling of weightlessness in space and matched it with such a heartwrenching story of survival.  Sandra Bullock gives the performance of her career as Ryan Stone, an astronaut having a really, REALLY bad day.  George Clooney gives just the right amount of smug charm and support as her co-pilot and the magic of Alfonso Cuarón does the rest.  What Cuarón does here is simply remarkable, and truly a fest for the heart and the eyes.  The visuals are the best I've ever seen of any movie set in space, and it truly defines seeing a movie in 3D and IMAX.  Rarely do I insist that if you can, see a film in those higher priced formats.  However, this movie relashes how to use each one perfectly.  Simply marvelous.

 

3) THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN (R) - Felix Van Groeningen's hearbreaking musical film comes with Belgium romance and English Bluesgrass.  It tells the story of Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) an Athiest Bluesgrass singer who falls in love with Elise (Veerle Baetens), a religious tattoo artist with a voice made of gold.  Together the fall in love, team up behind the microphone, and look into having a family.  However the road is paved with incredibly hard travels ahead, and from the second scene (told completely out of sequence), you realize this charming, gorgeous film is going to break your heart.  And it does, a few times over.  But it also encaptures you and lifts your spirit.  Heldenbergh (who co-wrote the play on which the film is based) is a wonderfully (sometimes unstable) beaut of a character and Baetens turns in truly one of the best performances of the year (one that has won her Best Actress at the European Film Awards).  Bring your tissues and hold onto your heart (and immediately after, buy the soundtrack.  Trust me).

 

4) 12 YEARS A SLAVE (R) - Stunning, bleak, moving, and transcendent, 12 Years a Slave puts a bleak and dark face on the strange and uncomfortable history of American Slavery.  Telling the true story of Solomon Northup, a free man who in 1841 was drugged and sold into Slavery, Director Steve McQueen brings Northup's story (based on his own account published in 1854) to light in a brave, wonderous vision.  Chiwetel Ejiofor is simply magnificent as Northup, and takes you through every single emotion with the likes that only someone of his caliber can.  Lupita Nyong'o gives a raw and breakout supporting performance, Benedict Cumberbatch brings warmth to a conflicted man, & the one two punch of Sarah Paulon and Michael Fassbender's bring the true terror of the white racist slave owners of the south.  Not an easy watch, but an unforgettable one.

 

5) BEFORE MIDNIGHT (R) - Never in the history of cinema has two followup films proceeded to outdo the other.  Richard Linklater's whispy romance of Before Sunrise let to the heartbreaking reunion of Before Sunset (which still holds, for my money, one of the best cinematic endings in history).  Now comes the third installment in the Jesse & Celine series Before Midnight.  Linklater and co-writers/co-stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have created two truly wondrfully facinating characters with no bells and whistles.  Just two ordinary, intelligent people who met and have fallen in love.  They delve deliciously into what it takes to have passed the "swooning" periods of love and now are dealing with compromises inside of marriage.  It's a glorious passage into their story, wonderfully shot, and I can't wait for the next story in 9 years.

 

6) INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (R) - The Coen brothers have navigated through just about every kind of water, from slapstick comedy to dark fables, country retellings of a Greek Poem, and beautiful dramas.  They also have a spectacular ear for music driven storytelling and Inside Llewyn Davis is no exception.  Llewyn Davis, as played wonderfully by Oscar Issac, is not what you'd call a likable fellow but you still feel and root for him anyway.  He's in the midst of the 1960's folk scene in Greenwich Village and on the brink of everything getting ready to explode.  But as the Coen's center in on his story during one turbulant week, it's not necessarily his tale that's going to explode, and that's the beauty and heartbreak of it all.  The dialogue is crisp and fresh, the filmmaking wonderful, the performances by Issac, Cary Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, and John Goodman all shine, and the folk filled soundtrack is wonder (T-Bone Burnett's influence and involvement is felt throughout).

 

7) AMERICAN HUSTLE (R) David O. Russell has completely reinvented himself since his early days in filmm (Spanking the Monkey, I Heart Huckabees) and his latest, though not his best film, is a rollicking great time.  Christian Bale once again soars as a small time criminal who goes into business with his girlfriend (a wonderful Amy Adams) and they both get caught by a definitely not by the book agent, played by Bradley Cooper.  All three pull in tremendous performances, as does the spitfire Jennifer Lawrence as Bale's livewire wife.  Russell's film starts as one thing and shoots off as another, quickly grabbing you on for the ride.  After the sweet charm of Silver Linings Playbook, Russell now vears into a Scorsese esque world and it fits him quite nicely.

 

8) THE SPECTACULAR NOW (PG-13) Last year, Stephen Chbosky's novel turned film The Perks of Being a Wallflower became the first film to encapulate the magic of John Hughes since, well, John Hughes.  It became one of my favorite films of the year.  This year, another filmmaker (Jams Ponsoldt) has managed to bottle that magic and create a teen film that brings the wonder of Say Anything and The Breakfast Club into the year 2013.  The Spectacular Now follows High School Senior Sutter (Miles Teller, in a phenomenal performance) as he drinks, screws around, and parties his way through high school.  His reputation is widly known that although he's a great time to be around, you don't take him seriously.  Enter Aimee (Shailene Woodley, beautifully vulnerable), a good girl in high school who crosses Sutter's path and suddenly they fall in a way they've never experienced before, to a kind of person they've never known before.  The acting by Teller and Woodley, along with the rest of the supporting cast, is spot on and director Ponsoldt crafts the film without any clichés, showing the human experience as a teen in a beautiful and, shall we say, ultimately spectacular fashion.

 

9) THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (R) To tell a story without one hero in the main cast is a daunting task.  To tell that story, full of vile, money hungry men is even more so.  To make them theives on Wall Street could be considered story suicide, especially when there's no moral lesson being learned.  I'm not sure I could give that story justice.  But then again, I'm not Martin Scorsese, and if there's one thing he really knows how to do, it's making people with extremely ethical moral identities facinating characters.  The Wolf of Wall Street, the most polorizing movie out this year, features Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort, a real life Wall Street Broker who defines the meaning of "playing dirty."  He's a dispicable character, a charlaton who cares only about money and teaches everyone around him to do the same.  DiCaprio soars in the role, and fully embodies Belfort (one particular scene of him far too high on Quaaludes is epically hilarious).  Jonah Hill also comes to play ball with a very funny performance as Donnie Azoff, Jordan's second in command.  The movie is a lengthy one, clocking in at 3 hours, but for me never dragged.  It soars through these scammers lives not with reverance but with a birds eye view of curiosity.  It may madden you that the good guys don't always win, but you can't say it's not a facinating ride.

 

10) THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (PG-13) - Somewhere down the line it became "uncool" to create a movie without without any dark edges around it.  To simply have a film that's heartwarming, filled with a positive message and some stellar filmmaking.  Critics were hard on The Secret Life of Walter Mitty this year, yet for the life of me I can't figure out why.  The movie is, to date, the best work Ben Stiller the actor and Ben Stiller the Director has accomplished thus far.  Stiller performance of Mitty is layered and charming, Kristen Wig has a great supporting turn as his object of affection, and the entire rest of the supporting cast match perfectly (especially Adam Scott as the douchiest boss ever and Sean Penn perfectly cast in the role of Sean O'Connell, the photographer everyone admires).  With heartfelt early moments, hilarious and thrilling fanasy moments, and a build to an ending that really folds together perfectly, Walter Mitty is now the anti-movie: a movie that explores and tackles the warmess of life and not the cynicism that we all tend to fall into anymore.

 

A SECOND OPINION - LIZ'S TOP FLICKS


1) NEBRASKA (R) - This story is funny from start to finish and shot in black and white.  Nebraska is what would happen if you audio taped a packed house for Thanksgiving and then had it interpreted by Bruce Dern, June Squibb, and Will Forte.

2) INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (R) - Coen Brothers, music both old and new, Oscar Issac, plus Justin Timberlake in a turtleneck.  If nothing else, Issac's melodic voice is worth buying two tickets.

3) HER (R) - Joaquin Phoenix tackles a place in society that will most likely not be too far into the future.  In our obsession with technology, it's only logical that an IOS with Scarlett Johansson's voice would make you wanna get saucy.

4) 12 YEARS A SLAVE (R) - This epic true story is not only masterfully acted by a massive cast, but will move you to tears...unless you are dead inside.

5) FROZEN (PG) - Yes, the new Disney film.  Teaming up Kristen Bell (who has an amazing singing voice, by the way) and Broadway vocal powerhouse Idina Menzel (RENT), it's a story of sisterly love that's very refreshing, touching, and frankly hilarious.

6) ABOUT TIME (PG-13) A terrible marketing plan helped ruin this film's potential with audiences.  Touted as a Rachel McAdams rom-com, the story is actually about a father-son relationship, with time travel thrown in.  Incredibly charming and heartfelt.

7) THE SQUARE (NR) - This in-your-face documentary about the uprising in Egypt will make you angry with the media.  The filmmakers have promised to keep updating the film as the subjects move forward.  Facinating.

8) DRINKING BUDDIES (R) With nothing but an outline of the plot, Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston improv their way through this very sincere love story.  Wilde and Johnson are brilliant together.  Everyone has lived through the relationships in this film on one level or another.

9) DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (R) - Matthew McConaughey and Jared Lato made startling physical transformations.  Go ahead and give Leto all of the awards now.

10) THE INVISIBLE WOMAN (R) - Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in a story based on the novel of the same name.  Fiennes plays Charles Dickens as he begins an affair with a much younger woman.  Because of his fame she is forced to remain in the shadows.  Beautifully shot, ever engaging, this film is any English Literature major's dream.  You may leave understanding where the meaning of the phrase "Dickensian" really comes from.