Ethan and Joel Coen have been making movies since 1984. And not just your run-of-the-mill, “here’s another one” kind of movie. Thoughtful, delicately constructed masterworks. One after another. I truly think it’s fair to say that they don’t have a bad movie in the bunch, which makes the task of ranking them ever the more difficult. Each of their films have something in them to love; something unique worthy of cherishing. Be it a character, a stylish approach or brisk, bright bursts of comedy, they’re all bursting at the seams with life. In an attempt to parse out the differences though, it becomes clear just how united the Coen’s filmography is, even though at first glance, that couldn’t seem less the case. Read More
With the majority of 2013 awards winding down and the Oscars gearing up for next month, it’s time for me to reflect on the best parts about last year’s films. I’ve already published my top ten list alongside the absolute worst movies of the year but with these awards, I focus on the performances, direction, music, scene work and artistry of 2013.
At first, I tried to pigeonhole five nominees into each category but found that didn’t give me enough leeway to recognize all the talent I wanted to. When I then expanded to ten, it felt like there were times where I would be putting names down to fill up spots and didn’t really work for me either. So, instead of making an arbitrary number of nominees for each category, I opted to just recognize as many people as I saw fit in each category. So while the best actor category has 11 names of note, best foreign film only had 6 nominees and so forth. I know a lot of these may see overlap with other award nominations but I tried to recognize talent from all walks, the old to the new, and award what stood out as my personal favorites.
Look out for a short breakdown in the actors and directors sections but the other categories speak for themselves.
WINNER: Leonardo DiCaprio ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’
Runner Up: Christian Bale ‘Out of the Furance’ & ‘American Hustle’
Honorable Mention: Ethan Hawke ‘Before Midnight’
Matthew McConaughey ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ & ‘Mud’
Joaquin Phoenix ‘Her’
Mads Mikkelsen ‘The Hunt’
Chiwetel Elijofor ’12 Years a Slave’
Bruce Dern ‘Nebraska’
Tom Hanks ‘Captain Phillips’
Michael B. Jordan ‘Fruitvale Station’
It’s no secret that I’m a big Leonardo DiCaprio fan and it’s performances like his in The Wolf of Wall Street that earns him such a high ranking amongst my favorite working actors. With manic physicality, hypnotizing stage presence and wonderfully potent comedic timing, his take on amoral but lovin’ it Jordan Belfort is a role to remember. Christian Bale did wonders in Out of the Furnace and, even though I wasn’t head over heels for American Hustle, his performance there was nothing to balk at and one of the strongest features of the film. The most underrated performance of the year is Ethan Hawke who embodied humanity and boyish charm in my favorite film of the year Before Midnight. The film rests squarely on his and Julie Delpy‘s compotent shoulders and had their performances been any less, the impact wouldn’t have been nearly what it was.
Best Supporting Actor:
WINNER: Jared Leto ‘Dallas Buyers Club’
Runner Up: Jonah Hill ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’
Honorable Mention: Geoffrey Rush ‘The Book Thief’
Woody Harrelson ‘Out of the Furnace’
Michael Fassbender ’12 Years a Slave’
Barkhad Abdi ‘Captain Phillips’
Ben Foster ‘Lone Survivor’
Daniel Bruhl ‘Rush’
Matthew McConaughey ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’
Alexander Skaarsgard ‘What Maisie Knew’
Another crowded category, I had to go with a somewhat calculated choice, a man more than likely to win at the Academy Awards this year, Jared Leto. His performance, almost moreso than Matthew McConaughey‘s, grounds the heartbreaking tale of Dallas Buyers Club and brings humanity to those that are too often dehumanized. On the other side of the coin, Jonah Hill was a riot in The Wolf of Wall Street and between his introductory scene and subsequent cousin soliloquy and the unhinged energy he brings to the Lemmons scene, his is one of the most unforgettable performances of the year. Another under-appreciated role takes my honorable mention slot with Geoffrey Rush‘s lovely performance in the otherwise forgettable The Book Thief. Rush is an acting giant and watching him effortlessly capture our sympathy just goes to show his monumental range.
WINNER: Meryl Streep ‘August: Osage County’
Runner Up: Julie Delpy ‘Before Midnight’
Honorable Mention: Scarlett Johansson ‘Her’
Cate Blanchett ‘Blue Jasmine’
Brie Larson ‘Short Term 12’
Judi Dench ‘Philomena’
Adele Exarchopoulos ‘Blue is the Warmest Color’
Shailene Woodley ‘The Spectacular Now’
Greta Gerwig ‘Frances Ha’
Emma Thompson ‘Saving Mr. Banks’
I know Cate Blanchett is the name on everyone’s lips right now and there’s no denying that her performance is a showstopper but, for me, was not quite the most impressive of the year. Speaking of cinematic giants, I just couldn’t help but give my top award to Meryl Streep for her poisonous performance in the ensemble drama August: Osage County. Streep is a chameleon and we’re used to seeing her, for the most part, play loveable roles so seeing her transform into an utterly despicable train wreck of a pill popper showcases why she is the monolithic actress she is. Watching Julie Delpy embody the role of Celine for the third (or fourth if you consider Waking Life) time, you can see how much she has sank into this role and it’s simply a beauty to behold. Although deemed ineligible for the Oscars, Scarlett Johansson is able to achieve wonders with just her voice and deserves a pile of praise for that.
Best Supporting Actress:
WINNER: Julia Roberts “August: Osage County”
Runner Up: Margot Robbie “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Honorable Mention: Kristen Scott Thomas ‘Only God Forgives’
Octavia Spenser ‘Fruitvale Station’
Jennifer Lawrence ‘American Hustle’
June Squibb ‘Nebraska’
Lupita Nyong’o ’12 Years a Slave’
Emily Watson ‘The Book Thief’
Melissa Leo ‘Prisoners’
Easily the least impressive of the four acting categories, the best supporting actress category just didn’t have quite as much to offer as the rest did this year. Going through my nominees, it was hard to choose a top spot because all were commendable but none were absolutely unforgettable. I would hardly consider Julia Roberts as someone whose films I anticipate so was caught offguard by her fantastic work in August: Osage County. She holds her own against Streep and at times even shows her up. Color me impressed. I gave the second slot to Margot Robbie of The Wolf of Wall Street because of an unforgettable scene she shares with DiCaprio that’s sexy, tortuous and hysterical all at once and would have been nothing without the presence she brings to the scene. And for all the flak Only God Forgives caught for lacking dialogue, Kristen Scott Thomas stood out as the only character with true personality and she absolutely chewed through her deluded sanctimony. She’s menacing, repulsive and commanding and totally owns every scene she’s in. And just to preempt those offended by my lack of pedastalizing Academy darling Jennifer Lawrence, I enjoyed what she did in American Hustle but could never really take her character seriously. It was fun but not near worthy the level of praise being heaped on. And Lupita Nyong’o was certainly stunning in her 12 Years a Slave scenes but remember, this is my favorites and her performance is nothing less than a chore to watch.
WINNER: Spike Jonze ‘Her’
Runner Up: Richard Linklater ‘Before Midnight’
Honorable Mention: Steve McQueen ’12 Years a Slave’
Martin Scorsese ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’
Jean-Marc Valee ‘Dallas Buyers Club’
Alexander Payne ‘Nebraska’
Denis Villeneuve ‘Prisoners’
Alfonso Cuaron ‘Gravity’
Destin Cretton ’12 Years a Slave’
Coen Bros ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’
I have to give a leg up to the director/writer combos so it’s no surprise that Spike Jonze has secured the top position. The humanity he brings to this technological world and the insight he’s able to provide is simply stunning, aided by his sharp visual style and realistic futurism. Richard Linklater may not be the world’ most hands on director but the palpably freedom he affords his actors gives them the capacity to create the caliber of tender moments we see in Before Midnight. He’s no bleeding heart but he’s not quite a cynic either and I love watching the way he sees the world. On the more difficult side of things, I’ve seen all three of Steve McQueen‘s films and, though this comment may be hotly debated, think 12 Years a Slave is actually his least tortuous. At least to watch. It’s an amazing effort that drags us through hell and yet there is a string of hope that runs throughout the story. I guess that only someone from outside of the states could bring such honesty and power to a distinctly American story.
WINNER: American Hustle
Runner Up: The Wolf of Wall Street
Honorable Mention: August: Osage County
12 Years a Slave
This is the End
WINNER: Sean Bobbitt ’12 Years A Slave’
Runner Up: Emmanuel Lubezki ‘Gravity’
Honorable Mention: Roger Deakins ‘Prisoners’
Phedon Papamichael ‘Nebraska’
Hoyte Van Hoytema ‘Her’
Bruno Delbonnel ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’
John R. Leonetti ‘The Conjuring’
Yves Bélanger ‘Lawrence Anyways’
Best Foreign Film
WINNER: The Hunt
Runner Up: Laurence Anyways
Honorable Mention: Populaire
Blue is the Warmest Color
Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus
WINNER: The Act of Killing
Runner Up: Cutie and the Boxer
Honorable Mention: Dirty Wars
The Crash Reel
WINNER: “Fare Thee Well” – Inside Llewyn Davis
Runner Up: “Young and Beautiful” – Great Gatsby
Honorable Mention: “Doby” – Anchorman 2: The Journey Continues
“Please Mr. Kennedy – Inside Llewy6n Davis
“The Moon Song – Inside Llewyn Davis
“In Summer – Frozen
“Oblivion” – Oblivion
WINNER: Her ‘When it All Goes Dark’
Runner Up: The Wolf of Wall Street “Lemmons 714”
Honorable Mention: Before Midnight ‘Letter from the Future’
Captain Phillips “Check Up”
August: Osage “Family Dinner”
Nebraska “Mt. Rushmore”
This is the End “Backstreets Back”
Gravity ‘Opening Sequence’
Out of the Furnace ‘Hot Dog’
Inside Llewyn Davis ‘Please Mr. Kennedy’
The Conjuring “Basement Exorcism”
Lawrence Anyways “It’s Raining Clothes”
I’d love to hear where you guys agree and disagree and would encourage you to share your own lists in the comments section below.
The time of year has come to compile the infamous top ten list, summing up the best of the best from throughout the year. And while I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t been piecing one together over the past three months, it is still an act of brain wracking and constant change that is in part requisite and in part cathartic. For most of us, the top ten list is the Everest of the movie year. And so, from the 150+ movies I’ve seen in 2013, narrowing it all down to ten is no cake walk but the process of distilling down to a minute selection is a great opportunity to revisit and reflect on some of the greats of the year.
Striking the right balance between “favorite films” and “quality films” is as crucial a factor in the construction of this list as taking into account how likely I’ll be to enjoy this film down the line. Sufficed to say, it’s more than just recounting the grades that I’ve handed out throughout the year and jamming them into a linear position.
All five of the films which I seated with an A+ made the list but, strangely enough, not one film I granted an A to had what it takes to really cross enough into the “favorite” category. More than anything, this list is comprised of the films that I enjoyed the most, have affected me most strongly, that I have reflected on again and again, and see myself watching over and over again. But to make sure that I acknowledge those lingering on the precipice I’m also going to get into the runner-ups that didn’t quite push the envelope quite far enough.
For every victor that made its way into this highly subjective top ten list there is that barrage of those that didn’t quite make the cut; those that flirted with the top ten and got left on the editing floor.
I’ve included two of these close call lists and have detailed them in no particular order: Honorable Mentions; more genre movies who I want to tip my hat to as they were all movies I thoroughly enjoyed at the theater; and Outskirts; those that were just on the tipping point of the TT but just didn’t have the oomph to push them into them over the cuff.
The World’s End
This is the End
All is Lost
What Maisie Knew
Only God Forgives
With that out of the way, join me on page two to count down the first five of the Infamous Top Ten List…
10. THE SPECTACULAR NOW/SHORT TERM 12
I figure I needed to shake things up somewhere down the line and why not start early and throw a tie in to throw people off? It’s been many months since I watched both of these coming of ages gems and, after much figuring, tweaking, and re-figuring, I found acknowledging one without the other was somewhat disingenuous to what I’m trying to accomplish with this list. So I went with the ol’ cop-out tie. Both took razor sharp looks at youth in society, both saw surprising, great performances from their young stars, and the direction of each meant the exposure of directors surging with storytelling prowess and emotional honesty. Aside from being a really honest teen drama, The Spectacular Now had the type of heart that made it stand out through the year.
“Dodging the stuffy trappings of many coming-of-age tales by reworking their stereotypes to its benefit, The Spectacular Now eclipses expectation. Instead of avoiding clichés entirely, Ponsoldt uses them to his advantage. And while the framework for the genre has clearly already been established, it rarely results in something this good and all around meaningful. It joins the ranks of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Superbad as timeless films about the difficulty of transition and the promise of human connection while carving out enough of a name for itself to be remembered years down the line.” Full review here.
And while The Spectacular Now challenged us to look at high school sagas in a way that recognizes the dormant maturity and incumbent stress of our schooling years, Short Term 12 looked at a group of under-appreciated social workers, who like trashmen, take the leftovers of society’s unwanted, misplaced, and abandoned children and how difficult running an underfunded facility like Short Term 12 is for these criminally under-supported caretakers.
“Thanks to a charged-up level of emotional maturity, the film tackles difficult issues with careful footing – immediately establishing a reverent tone, dipped with charm and laced with smiles. The psychological trauma uncovered within the character’s brick-walled hearts is likewise handled with tender precision. Each reaction the film garnishes is no accident. Every bit has its place, a building block towards a grand scheme that ultimately delivers a big pay-off for those willing to engage in the bumps along the road.” Full review here.
Both were staggering achievements that most likely won’t be find footing in many other Top Ten lists so I’m glad that I can include them both amongst mine. Going forward though, I promise, no more ties.
9. OUT OF THE FURNACE
Another criminally underrated film of 2013, Out of the Furnace is certainly no walk in the park and I could have my arm twisted to say that it’s the darkest entry on this list (many of you will probably cry heretic but just roll with me here.) Bleak and unblinking, Scott Cooper‘s follow-up to the overrated Jeff Bridge‘s drama Crazy Heart cuts to the bone of issues bubbling over in America and did it without spoonfeeding them down your throat. Stir that in with a career best performance from Christian Bale, an unforgettable villain courtesy of Woody Harrelson and the best scene involving a hot dog of all time and Out of the Furnace earns its place on this man’s list.
“Out of the Furnace is not the movie you expect, it’s not quite the movie you think you want, and it’s certainly not a movie you’ll see coming, but it is one of the best movies of 2013. Petering along a solemn road of America as industrialized hellhole, the jet-black tone and snail’s pace cadence of the film may prove too overbearing for some but those willing to dive into the mire will find a film overflowing with themes of chaotic grace, personal sacrifice, ego death, spiritual deterioration, and unbounded duty. Many similarities to early Kurosawa samurai films and Drive – which itself is largely plotted like a samurai film – emerge and make the film rich with subtext, even though unearthing that subtext is a bit of a harrowing chore.” Full review here.
Keeping in line with movies that harness the allure of the darkly comic, Nebraska hangs tight with its mix of banal humor and caustic sentimentality. Bruce Dern‘s Woody is as iconic and memorable a character as 2013 has seen and his strange blend of cluelessness and strong moral foundation seed just the right type of fundamental irony to reap rich comedy and drama from. But beneath the black humor of Nebraska is a nagging sense of urgency – this is a film that, no matter how small the scope may seem, is monumentally characteristic of society at large. Themes of economy, family, and destiny give the film purpose and secure it amongst the top shelf of 2013.
“Nebraska starts with the old school painted mountains of the Paramount logo, a veiled reminder of the golden days of the USA, and jumps into an austere black-and-white landscape of Montana as Bruce Dern‘s Woody Grant stumbles down the snowy strip of government manicured grass between some train tracks and a largely vacant highway. Convinced he has won a million dollar prize, Woody’s intent on claiming his winnings in Nebraska even if that means walking the entire eight hundred mile trip on foot. A reminder of how off the tracks his life has veered, Woody sees his not-too-good-to-be-true grand prize as a means to a life he never had – a golden ticket to meaningfulness and utility long lost.” Full review here
As much as I wanted to fall head over heels for Gravity, I did have some standing flaws with its narrative. But those weren’t quite enough to overshadow just how marvelous a technical achievement Gravity truly is. Looking over 2013’s films that really wowed me, it’s impossible to not place this in the forefront. The fact that I saw it twice in the course of a week alone is enough to substantiate my ranking of this film amongst the best of the best, narrative issues aside. While it lacked the intellectual oomph and metaphorical undercurrents I was crossing my fingers for, the visual palette that Alfonso Cuarón played with here is easily the year’s best and some of the most impressive and immerse camerawork of all time.
“Gravity is pure entertainment done right and it’s achieved with transcendent technical mastery. Seamlessly blending nail-biting moments of suspense with quiet character moments in the vacuum of space, Cuarón has achieved a rare technical feat that sometimes overwhelms its lingering emotional subplot. But more than anything, it is a staggering success and one that will be appreciated by all. Cuarón has definitely chartered a new course here, setting the effects bar higher still than films like Inception or Avatar. Gravity is simply a game changer.” Full review here.
6. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
Gloomy and moody, the unorthodox folk tour that is the Coen Bros’ latest is brimming with character. The kind of character you get from years of chopping wood or wrestling with your bigger, older brother. Somberly akin to having someone you respect tell you that they’re disappointed in you, Inside Llewyn Davis hurts you in your soul. For all the missed connections, biffed relationships, and hidden betrayals, this attractively repulsive film couldn’t hew closer to the reality of trying out life as a struggling artist. Gone is the glamor of pop stars, gone is the envy. All we’re left with is a man and his music and the harsh reality of a winter’s chill. True, biting, and brimming with great music, Inside Llewyn Davis is the Coens at their most artistic and oddly emotional.
“Inside Llewyn Davis is a mood piece if there ever was any, rich with soulful folk ballads, colorful characters, and stripped of the usual framework that we call a story. As a microcosm of an era and a subculture, Davis, with his caustic demeanor, is the last man you would expect to lead a story. But for all his many faults, he lives and breathes folk music. His battered existence is the stuff straight from a hokum Bob Dylan lyric. What better subject for a film about a music genre that has by and large represented lost souls and losing investments than a gruff man fading from relevance before he was ever close to it in the first place?” Full review here
5. DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
However dour the premise of this movie may seem – a man dying of AIDS – it strikes an amazing balance of showcasing the triumph of the human spirit in the face of blistering adversity. Career topping performances from Matthew McCougnahey and Jared Leto shouldered by sensitive and enthusiastic, but never melodramatic, direction from Jean-Marc Vallée made Dallas Buyers Club more than just a story of darkness but rather one of hope. Like the first man on the moon, our greatest accomplishments are found in making the impossible possible and this is the story of Ron Woodroof. Although Woodroof didn’t find a cure, his efforts, and the efforts of many like him, changed both FDA policies and the social stigma revolving around HIV. The movie soars because instead of trying to milk the waterworks, Vallée is acutely aware of his grasp over his audience and prefers to mine for real drama. The result is this nearly perfect film.
“As a piece of cultural import, Dallas Buyers Club works so well because it is just as poignant look at drug administration as corporate bully and the monumental failings of the U.S. health care system today as it was then. Just look at the similar origin story of Walter White in Breaking Bad – another tale of a man with a clinical death sentence forced to function outside the law to pay for treatment – to upend parallels between the 80s and now. We may have waged unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and yet the U.S. government continues to wage an invisible war on the sick with their defunct health care policies. Canadian Vallée wrangles the issue close and holds it up to the camera. “Is this acceptable America?” he asks. Of course not. And yet, around and around we go.” Full review here.
4. 12 YEARS A SLAVE
Ok so maybe there’s a bit of a masochistic trend surfacing here but I promise, not everything on this list will be so dark and depressing. Even with all the flack 12 Years a Slave has caught over the course of the last year, with many calling it historical torture porn, I fall squarely on the side of the supporters as this is an undeniably excellent film. For all the harshness that found its way into 12 Years, the battle for one’s humanity and the inimitable sense of gritty purpose make this not only a powerful biopic but a fully engaging, gripping watch. Stars Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender offer a pair of captivating performances, and bolstered by rugged direction from Steve McQueen, are unafraid to stare down American slavery without bending. It’s a hard film to recommend and a difficult film to love but it is clearly one of the most unforgettable and powerful films to grace the screen in 2013, delivering a gut punch to your sense of justice and, likewise, soul.
“Director Steve McQueen is a particular type of dark visionary. Employing patience and human degradation as a litmus test of how much we can emotionally bear, McQueen peels back all the curtains of our collective American history, revealing the inky black turmoil stirring in the human soul. But torture is no new game for McQueen. In his first film, Hunger, McQueen explored a prison-bound hunger strike but his craft was not yet refined, too raw, cold, and indulgent to raise the welt he was hoping for. In Shame, he arm wrestled sex addiction out of romanticized glamor and into a pit of emptiness and human despair. Although fantastic acting and gruesome body horror prevailed, it continued the same dour tendencies that make his films so hard to sit through. In his third go around, he’s perfected his art, making a film that’s both impossible to watch and impossible to look away from.” Full review here.
3. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Here we go, a fun one! Martin Scorsese is as dynamic a director as ever with The Wolf of Wall Street and the result is a three-hour romp through the bowels of drugs, sex, and bankrolls. Featuring two of the best performances of the year in Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill, Wolf is pure adult entertainment at the theater, unlike anything else this year – and any other year in recent history – had to offer. Underscored with an electric current courtesy of the Leo-Scorsese super-duo, this jet black comedy sets a fire early on and lets the conflagration rise rapid and without bound. Although I was tempted with the idea of this being my number one pick, I pulled it out to the third spot because it lacked the emotional impact that the two finalists left with me. Nevertheless, Wolf is easily the most fun film of the year.
“Martin Scorsese‘s The Wolf of Wall Street is a bombastic raunchfest spilling over with feverish humor, held in place by vibrant direction from Martin Scorsese and unhinged performances from its gifted cast. Sprawling and episodic, this “greed is great” epic is not only the funniest movie of the year, not only has one of the most outstanding performances in recent history, and not only is one of the most explicit films to hit the theaters under the guise of an R-rating, but, like icing on the proverbial cake, it offers a colossally poignant and timely cultural deconstruction of the financial institutions on which our country depends. And though it runs for exactly three hours, I’d watch this strung-out saga again in a second. A messy masterpiece on all fronts, The Wolf of Wall Street is a towering achievement.” Full review here.
Even if Her was a short film made up entirely of that one scene in which Theodore and Sam consummate their new found feelings for one another, enveloped in blackness, bound by some ethereally indescribable and yet palpable bond, I would still applaud with a lump in my throat. There’s magic to Her that escapes even the most veteran of filmmakers so to see it come from Spike Jonze first effort as a writer/director is even more impressive and showstopping. Joaquin Phoenix‘s romance with Scarlett Johansson‘s AI Sam is easily the most complex, intriguing, and affecting relationship of the year. The fact that she isn’t human is hardly something of note come the end of the film. She just…is. And however much it may seem like it’s about the near-future, Her is really about the now; a warning sign of things to come and an invitation into the unknown.
“Anchored with a cast this talented putting their all into each and every scene, Her is lightning in a bottle. Instead of feeling like this future world is strange, it feels entirely practical, slightly scary yet peculiarity hopeful. And however weird the concept of falling in love with an operating system seems, when we’re in heat of the moment, it never feels weird. It just feels right.” Full review here.
1. BEFORE MIDNIGHT
I saw Before Midnight twice and both times were probably my most emotionally engaging experiences at the theater this year. I can’t deny it, I just am in love with this film. Technically a second sequel, Before Midnight drops the naive musings of twentysomethings found in Before Sunrise, reaches higher than the ennui and disappointment of the thirties oozing in Before Sunset, offering a deeply philosophical and meditative look at life as an ebbing flow of ups and downs that’s superior to its ilk. A metaphorical extension of the Chinese notion of ying and yang, Before‘s central couple, Jesse and Celine, are encapsulations of masculinity and femininity, completely embodying archetypes of what it means to be each and then transcending them. But more than anything, Before Midnight is a snapshot of life on earth as a wanderer; a constant explorer of uncharted territory. Not everything has a silver lining like not every relationship is built to last. But, beneath everything, is this need for self-reflection; a right to muse about life and our place in it. There’s no saying where we’re going next and no measure of which decisions have gotten us to where we are today. In life, things just are and all we can do is roll with the punches. Before Midnight rolls hard and it rolls deep and is a movie I would happily recommend to anyone willing to think, feel, explore, philosophize, and love.
“There’s therapeutic nihilism in Celine’s rough-hewn outlook on love and the world and Delpy embraces this character with a blanket of understanding. Even when Celine is being admittedly crazy, she sticks to her guns like a nagging coon, unable to help herself. Blanketed behind five-o-clock shadowed grit, Jesse is equally at fault for their relationship woes as his cock-eyed grin and boyish reflections don’t fill his quota for being a daddy. As a pair, Delpy and Hawke are solid gold.” Full review here.
And with that, my personal chapter on 2013 is closed. Over the next few weeks, look for articles on the Worst 10 Movies of 2013 and the Silver Screen Riot Awards in which I’ll look at the best performances, directing, cinematography, etc. of the year.
What a crazy two months it has been, as the majority of the Golden Globes film nominees were released in the last sixth of this year. 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle earned seven nods each, leading the pack of award season favorites. Interestingly, the competition for best film has been essentially cut in half, since the Globes consider Her, American Hustle, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Nebraska comedies, which seems a bit odd, even though they are lighter dramas.
Of the two categories, the comedy one looks to be much more competitive, honestly. While Gravity, Captain Phillips, Philomena, and Rush were all exceptionally solid films, they are second tier to the likes of 12 Years a Slave and Dallas Buyers Club (which is curiously absent). The actor nods are in the same boat, as the competitive pool has been divided into two separate categories.
The complete list of nominees below with predictions in red.
Best Picture, Drama
“12 Years a Slave”
Best Picture, Musical or Comedy
“Inside Llewyn Davis”
“The Wolf of Wall Street”
Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”
Paul Greengrass, “Captain Phillips”
Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”
Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”
David O. Russell, “American Hustle”
Best Actor, Drama
Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”
Idris Elba, “Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom”
Tom Hanks, “Captain Phillips”
Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”
Robert Redford, “All Is Lost”
Best Actress, Drama
Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”
Judi Dench, “Philomena”
Emma Thompson, “Saving Mr. Banks”
Kate Winslet, “Labor Day”
Best Actor, Musical or Comedy
Christian Bale, “American Hustle”
Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Oscar Isaac, “Inside Llewyn Davis”
Joaquin Phoenix, “Her”
Best Actress, Musical or Comedy
Amy Adams, “American Hustle”
Julie Delpy, “Before Midnight”
Greta Gerwig, “Frances Ha”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Enough Said”
Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County”
Best Supporting Actor
Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips”
Daniel Brühl, “Rush”
Bradley Cooper, “American Hustle”
Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave”
Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”
Best Supporting Actress
Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”
Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County”
June Squibb, “Nebraska”
Best Animated Feature Film
“Despicable Me 2”
Foreign Language Film
“Blue Is the Warmest Color”
“The Great Beauty”
“The Wind Rises”
“12 Years a Slave”
Best Original Song
“Atlas,” performed by Coldplay — “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”
“Let It Go,” performed by Idina Menzel — “Frozen”
“Ordinary Day,” performed by U2 — “Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom”
“Please Mr. Kennedy,” performed by Justin Timberlake, Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver — “Inside Llewyn Davis”
“Sweeter Than Fiction,” performed by Taylor Swift — “One Chance”
Best Original Score
Alex Ebert, “All Is Lost”
Alex Heffes, “Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom”
Steven Price, “Gravity”
John Williams, “The Book Thief”
Hans Zimmer, “12 Years a Slave”
Best Television Series, Drama
“The Good Wife”
“House of Cards”
“Masters of Sex”
Best Television Series, Comedy or Musical
“The Big Bang Theory”
“Parks and Recreation”
Best Miniseries or Television Movie
“American Horror Story: Coven”
“Behind the Candelabra”
“Dancing on the Edge”
“Top of the Lake”
Best Actor, Television Drama
Bryan Cranston, “Breaking Bad”
Liev Schreiber, “Ray Donovan”
Michael Sheen, “Masters of Sex”
Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards”
James Spader, “The Blacklist
Best Actress, Television Drama
Juliana Margulies, “The Good Wife”
Tatiana Maslany, “Orphan Black”
Taylor Schilling, “Orange Is the New Black”
Kerry Washington, “Scandal”
Robin Wright, “House of Cards”
Best Actor, Television Comedy or Musical
Jason Bateman, “Arrested Development”
Don Cheadle, “House of Lies”
Michael J. Fox, “The Michael J. Fox Show”
Jim Parsons, “The Big Bang Theory”
Andy Samberg, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”
Best Actress, Television Comedy or Musical
Zooey Deschanel, “New Girl”
Lena Dunham, “Girls”
Edie Falco, “Nurse Jackie”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”
Amy Poehler, “Parks and Recreation”
Best Actor, Television Movie or Mini-Series
Matt Damon, “Behind the Candelabra”
Michael Douglas, “Behind the Candelabra”
Chiwetel Ejiofor, “Dancing on the Edge”
Idris Elba, “Luthor”
Al Pacino, “Phil Specter”
Best Actress, Television Movie or Mini-Series
Helena Bonham Carter, “Burton and Taylor”
Rebecca Ferguson, “White Queen”
Jessica Lange, “American Horror Story: Coven”
Helen Mirren, “Phil Specter”
Elisabeth Moss, “Top of the Lake”
Best Supporting Actor
Josh Charles, “The Good Wife”
Rob Lowe, “Behind the Candelabra”
Aaron Paul, “Breaking Bad”
Corey Stoll, “House of Cards”
Jon Voight, “Ray Donovan”
Best Supporting Actress
Jacqueline Bisset, “Dancing on the Edge”
Janet McTeer, “White Queen”
Hayden Panettiere, “Nashville”
Monica Potter, “Parenthood”
Sofia Vergara, “Modern Family”
“Inside Llewyn Davis’
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Adam Driver, Max Casella, Robin Bartlett, Ethan Phillips, Stark Sands
“Can anything be both meaningful and aimless?” Joel and Ethan Coen ask in their latest film. Taking it from Llewyn Davis, the man and movie both, it appears so. But such is the nature of art. A masterpiece isn’t planned, nor is it something that can necessarily be blueprinted. Half the meaning of art is in the legwork itself; the getting there of it all. For within art as self-expression, there is no structure, no path towards inspiration, and no guarantee of success, even for your best work. And yet, to only give yourself half-heartedly to a craft that only stands a snowball’s chance in hell of finding an audience is self-defeating. Folk music, as we see here, isn’t just about singing songs, it’s the burden of searching for meaning, a modus operandi that looks a lot like vagrancy; an outré way of existing. Art is no hobby, Inside Llewyn Davis cries, it’s a lifestyle, and a tiring one at that.
As Llewyn Davis tries with fleeting enthusiasm to give his folk-sung artistry a last go around the Greenwich folk scene, he learns that art and commercialism could not be further polarized (the iPhone hadn’t been invented just yet). In an ironically staged twist of Coen Bros symmetry, this film, which is as far left of commercial as can be, is a piece of high art. As such, it’ll likely be shuffled away from the mainstream, bolstered only by Coen enthusiast’s enduring adoration, near-universal critical acclaim, and a dollop of love from the awards circuits. But though it’s reach may be limited, it is powerful. And as I’ve tried to preach in movie-related writings, it’s a film best served with a healthy serving of reflection, to be sought out by those who seek a deeper relationship with the films they watch.
Inside Llewyn Davis is a mood piece if there ever was any, rich with soulful folk ballads, colorful characters, and stripped of the usual framework that we call a story. As a microcosm of an era and a subculture, Davis, with his caustic demeanor, is the last man you would expect to lead a story. But for all his many faults, he lives and breathes folk music. His battered existence is the stuff straight from a hokum Bob Dylan lyric. What better subject for a film about a music genre that has by and large represented lost souls and losing investments than a gruff man fading from relevance before he was ever close to it in the first place?
Lumbering around aimless, Davis suffers from destiny lost. He’s recovering from the death of his best friend and musical partner and coming to the harsh acceptance that life has chewed him up, spit him out, and wants no further taste of him. But that’s hardly an excuse for such reprehensible behavior. Especially in front of the ladies!
Muses for Davis come and go with the change of the seasons and, through the power of suggestion and the here-again-there-again nature of Davis, we’re led to believe that he’s notorious for being loose with the ladies. Hell, he’s even slept with his best friend’s wife. But for all the poontang he reaps around town, he’s about as popular with any given lady after a sexual tryst as the music he sings. Doling out abortion money like its a hobby, Davis is the breed of sad, sorrowful ladies man who’s lifestyle is unbefitting of love. There’s only room for one love in his life and that’s his music, however mistreated it seems to be by the rest of the world.
When it comes to telling this tale of harmonious woe, the Coens turn the formula on its head. Rather than meeting a grumbling stick-in-the-mud who then spins his life around, when we meet Davis, he seems like a pretty decent guy. However, the more time we spent with him, the more we see him as an egocentric bastard, using up people’s goodwill and spitting them out like they were nothing to him. But it probably comes with the fact that he
Llewyn’s didactic approach to music has him looking down his nose at his peers – all of which, he has assured himself, are hacks or sell outs – and yet going nowhere fast for it. In such, he’s the Holden Caulfield of folk (and I guess that makes them “phonies”). But Davis is no troubled teenager. He’s a calloused man, hardened by disappointed, burdened with grief and buried in sorrow. The only thing that keeps him ticking is his geetar and his oh so lovely vocal cords. But each time Llewyn caws out a tune, coy as it may be, he is alive. Then, he retreats into something the broken man we know. As lively and rich as his soulful ballads are, he has become a shell. Without his tunes, I’m afraid there is nothing else left in this Oscar the Grouch.
After reading an early draft of the script, the Coens decided they needed more “tradition” in it and so we have Ulysses the cat. Davis’ moral compass is represented by this fat-faced, orange tabby cat who we meet in the opening shot of the film. Ulysses, just as much as Davis, guides us through this week-long saunter. As the film tracks the cat’s journey, we come to new conclusions about the mop-headed Llewyn, conclusions which will ultimately disappoint us and leave Davis heavy with shame.
Teeming with atmosphere, Inside Llewyn Davis captures the feel of grayness, that hard to swallow pill of depression. Even though it’s quite beautiful, Inside Llewyn Davis feels ugly. You can smell the stink of the smoke on your skin, and the nip of the chilly air when Davis walks into the New York streets sans proper winter wear. We shutter when he steps in a puddle, we empathize when he’s told, “I don’t see any money in it” as if that’s all that really matters.
Wet, downtrodden cinematography from Bruno Delbonnel helps to inform a New York that’s just as beat up as Davis himself. Even the most upbeat song of the film, sung to absolute perfection by Justin Timberlake‘s Jim and Adam Driver‘s Al Cody, is a plea against America’s fear of the uncertainty – the next battle against the Ruskos in a blossoming Cold War. That song, so aptly titled Please Mr. Kennedy is perfectly symbolic for the whole feature – and one of the most fun scens in all of 2013. It’s commercial crud and yet, it’s the one song you’ll be singing after the film wraps for days (Puh-puh-puh-please…). If only the whole movie had this upbeat sensibility, humor, and Driver’s timely baritone. But that’s a different movie entirely.
And yet there are a couple chunks to it that may as well be flown in from other films. The car scene with John Goodman seems like its from another movie entirely and, while propelling Llewyn to a climatic meeting with fate, seems a touch bloated for what we get out of it.
Blemishes and all, Inside Llewyn Davis is that rare movie that only the Coens could pull off. Backed by a killer soundtrack, a gloomy visual landscape, and a star-making performance from lead Oscar Isaac, it may be a film reserved for the minority but those lucky few sure will cherish it.
A lot has changed in the weeks since my first Oscar prediction post. A big contender is now out of the running with Monuments Men unexpected move to a 2014 release, while Saving Mr. Banks debuted to soaring reviews, and The Wolf of Wall Street secured its chance in this year’s Oscar after solidifying a Christmas release date.
Although buzz has Gravity and 12 Years a Slave going head-to-head for the title, that conversation is nothing more than preemptive positioning, as there’s just so much more to see before the we start setting things in stone. One thing is for sure though, Gravity’s continued praise and high box office numbers make it a stronger contender than expected and it’s pretty much locked in nominations across the board. Nonetheless, expect it to pull an Inception/Life of Pi manuever and mostly walk away with technical accolades. Although unlikely, a director-picture split could potentially see Alfonso Cuaron taking home his first Oscar but after last year’s Affleck, Argo drama, don’t cross your fingers.
After seeing 12 Years a Slave, Blue is the Warmest Color, and Nebraska, I had to shake up a few categories, first and foremost, the Best Actor category, as I can’t imagine Bruce Dern not seeing some recognition. As for Chiwetel Ejifor‘s lead role in 12 Years, it’s beyond powerful, and he’s very likely to take home the gold. Nipping at his heels, Robert Redford continues to climb the charts for his near silent role in All is Lost and could just end up playing a legacy trump card when it comes voting time.
Another black man playing a role tailor man for the Oscars, Forest Whitaker got pushed out of the top five for now but it wouldn’t be unlikely for him to step back in sooner or later. Perhaps the biggest unknown quality in this category though is Leonardo DiCaprio, who leads Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Criminally undernominated, DiCaprio was pegged for an Oscar for this role early on but now his odds are shakier with the knowledge that Wolf is a nearly three hour long dark comedy. Now that the film will definitely see the light of day in 2013, there’s still a chance he can pull some last minute punches. For once, it’s a rather interesting race for Best Actor with some massive talent pining for those top five spots.
The Best Director category seems pretty firmed up as none of the top five spots managed to budge. Expect further momentum in that category in December when Saving Mr. Banks, American Hustle, and Inside Llewyn Davis play for a wider audience. For now, it’s a race between McQueen and Cuaron but if American Hustle is the success story that so many people expect, a win for David O. Russell would be more than understandable.
Glancing through the list for now, you’ll notice a bit of a 12 Years a Slave domination. Does that mean I expect 12 Years a Slave to clean up at the Oscars? Not necessarily, but all current momentum does have it as an early frontrunner, making it the one to beat at the moment. Gravity is currently perceived as its biggest competition but that’s little more than hogwash, as Gravity, no matter how well received, just doesn’t stand a chance at the top.
The closet thing we have as a lock for now is Cate Blanchett‘s stronghold on Best Actress. Although Judi Dench will give her a run for her money with her titular role in Philomena, Bullock is assured a nomination, and Streep is never someone to be scoffed at, this category is all but signed, sealed, and delivered for Blanchett.
1. “12 Years a Slave” (No change)
2. “Gravity” +1
3. “Saving Mr. Banks” +1
4. “American Hustle” -2
5. “The Wolf of Wall Street” +4
6. “Inside Llewyn Davis” (No change)
7. “Captain Phillips” -2
8. “Nebraska” +4
9. “Dallas Buyers Club” -2
10. “All is Lost” +1
11. “August: Osage County” -1
12. “Rush” +1
13. “Before Midnight” +1
14. “Blue is the Warmest Color” (New)
15. “Prisoners” (New)
1. Steve McQueen “12 Years a Slave” (No change)
2. Alfonso Cuaron “Gravity” (No change)
3. David O. Russell “American Hustle” (No change)
4. John Lee Hancock “Saving Mr. Banks” (No change)
5. The Coen Bros “Inside Llewyn Davis” (No change)
6. Martin Scorsese “The Wolf of Wall Street” +2
7. Paul Greengrass “Captain Phillips” -1
8. JC Chandor “All is Lost” +1
9. Alexander Payne “Nebraska” +1
10. Jean-Marc Vallee “Dallas Buyers Club” (New)
1. Chiwetel Ejifor “12 Years a Slave” +1
2. Robert Redford “All is Lost” +2
3. Matthew McConaughey “Dallas Buyers Club” -2
4. Tom Hanks “Captain Phillips” -1
5. Bruce Dern “Nebraska” +3
6. Leonardo DiCaprio “The Wolf of Wall Street” (No change)
7. Forest Whitaker “Lee Daniel’s The Butler” -2
8. Christain Bale “American Hustle” -1
9. Joaquin Phoenix “Her” (No change)
10. Oscar Isaac “Inside Llewyn Davis” (No change)
1. Cate Blanchett “Blue Jasmine” (No change)
2. Judi Dench “Philomena” (No change)
3. Sandra Bullock “Gravity” +1
4. Meryl Streep “August: Osage County” -1
5. Emma Thompson “Saving Mr. Banks” (No change)
6.Amy Adams “American Hustle” (No change)
7. Adèle Exarchopoulos “Blue is the Warmest Color” +2
8. Julie Delpy “Before Midnight” -1
9. Brie Larson “Short Term 12” -1
10. Berenice Bejo “The Past” (No change)
Best Supporting Actor:
1. Jared Leto “Dallas Buyers Club” (No change)
2. Michael Fassbender “12 Years a Slave” +1
2. Daniel Bruhl “Rush” -1
4. Tom Hanks “Saving Mr. Banks” (No change)
5. Barkhad Abdi “Captain Phillips” +3
6. Bradley Cooper “American Hustle” (No change)
7. Jake Gllyenhaal “Prisoners” (No change)
8. Jonah Hill “The Wolf of Wall Street” (New)
9. John Goodman “Inside Llewyn Davis” -4
10. James Gandolfini “Enough Said” (New)
Best Supporting Actress:
1. Lupita Nyong’o “12 Years a Slave” (No change)
2. Oprah Winfrey “Lee Daniel’s The Butler” (No change)
3. June Squibb “Nebraska” +4
4. Julia Roberts “August: Osage County” -1
5. Octavia Spencer “Fruitvale Station” -1
6. Lea Seydoux “Blue is the Warmest Color” (New)
7. Margo Martindale “August: Osage County” -1
8. Melissa Leo “Prisoners” (No change)
9. Jennifer Lawrence “American Hustle” (No change)
10. Carey Mulligan “Inside Llewyn Davis” (No change)
As 2013 races to a close, it’s time for the first round of Oscar predictions. 2013 started with a whimper with a truly slumping spring season that moved into a relatively disappointing summer slate of blockbusters (at least from a critical perspective). But the fall season hopes to make up for any inadequacies of the rest of the year with a lump sum of certifiably great films. Although some of my predicted contenders have yet to see the light of day, there are now enough pieces in play to make a fair judgement as to what may and may not make the cut come the year’s end. Come join us to discuss our first round of 2014’s Oscar predictions.
I’ve personally only seen a few of the big contenders for Best Picture (Gravity, Dallas Buyers Club, Captain Phillips), some have played their way through the festival circuit (Inside Llewyn Davis, Saving Mr. Banks, 12 Years a Slave, Inside Llewyn Davis) and the remainder have yet to be seen at all (The Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle, The Monuments Men). But even for these unknown qualities, all you have to do is look at the talent and directors and a shoe-in is the rule rather than the exception.
Coming off a fiery debut at TIFF, 12 Years a Slave seems the clear front runner and is sure to nab nomination across the board (including Steve McQueen‘s first directing Oscar nomination as well as first time nominations for Chiwetel Ejifor and Lupita Nyong’o). Others such as Inside Llewyn Davis and Saving Mr. Banks won high praise out of Cannes and the AFI fest respectively and will similar play across many categories.
As far as those that have yet to play for any audience, David O. Russell’s sterling track record speaks for itself and, depending on how well-received American Hustle is, he may prove to be 12 Years a Slave and Steve McQueen‘s biggest challenge. While The Wolf of Wall Street is involved in a bit of a juggling act, it’s darkly comic tone may keep it from being amongst the top tier, a similar situation to George Clooney‘s The Monument’s Men. Although Clooney’s name, an all-star cast, and a historic context have proved successful in the past, the first trailer looked a little too light to make it a serious player in a very heavy year.
Gravity still sits pretty as a critical darling that will have the backing of the mainstream, who rushed out to see it this weekend to a tune of more than $50 million and for it, is likely to take home a bulk of the technical categories.
Probably one of this year’s biggest talking points will orbit the discussion of an unprecedented amount of African-American nominees. Steve McQueen may not be the first black director to be nominated (he would actually be the third after John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood) and Lee Daniels (Precious)) he is the first who actually stands a fair chance at winning. Likewise, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o lead their respective category. Even more impressive is the fact that the Best Supporting Actress category is likely to see nominations for three black actresses (Nyong’o, Oprah Winfrey, and Octavia Spencer)
1. “12 Years a Slave”
2. “American Hustle”
4. “Saving Mr. Banks”
5. “Captain Phillips”
6. “Inside Llewyn Davis”
7. “Dallas Buyers Club”
8. “The Monuments Men”
9. “The Wolf of Wall Street”
10. “August: Osage County”
11. “All is Lost”
14. “Before Midnight”
1. Steve McQueen “12 Years a Slave”
2. Alfonso Cuaron “Gravity”
3. David O. Russell “American Hustle”
4. John Lee Hancock “Saving Mr. Banks”
5. The Coen Bros “Inside Llewyn Davis”
6. Paul Greengrass “Captain Phillips”
7. George Clooney “The Monuments Men”
8. Martin Scorsese “The Wolf of Wall Street”
9. JC Chandor “All is Lost”
10. Alexander Payne “Nebraska”
3. Tom Hanks “Captain Phillips”
4. Robert Redford “All is Lost”
5. Forest Whitaker “Lee Daniel’s The Butler”
6. Leonardo DiCaprio “The Wolf of Wall Street”
7. Christain Bale “American Hustle”
8. Bruce Dern “Nebraska”
9. Joaquin Phoenix “Her”
10 .Oscar Isaac “Inside Llewyn Davis”
1. Cate Blanchett “Blue Jasmine”
3. Meryl Streep “August: Osage County”
4. Sandra Bullock “Gravity”
5. Emma Thompson “Saving Mr. Banks”
6.Amy Adams “American Hustle”
7. Julie Delpy “Before Midnight”
8. Brie Larson “Short Term 12”
9. Adèle Exarchopoulos “Blue is the Warmest Color”
10. Berenice Bejo “The Past”
Best Supporting Actor:
2. Daniel Bruhl “Rush”
3. Michael Fassbender “12 Years a Slave”
4. Tom Hanks “Saving Mr. Banks”
5. John Goodman “Inside Llewyn Davis”
6. Bradley Cooper “American Hustle”
7. Jake Gllyenhaal “Prisoners”
8. Barkhad Abdi “Captain Phillips”
9. Sam Rockwell “The Way, Way Back”
10. Andrew Dice Clay “Blue Jasmine”
Best Supporting Actress:
2. Oprah Winfrey “Lee Daniel’s The Butler”
3. Julia Roberts “August: Osage County”
4. Octavia Spencer “Fruitvale Station”
5. Cameron Diaz “The Counselor”
6. Margo Martindale “August: Osage County”
7. June Squibb “Nebraska”
8. Melissa Leo “Prisoners”
9. Jennifer Lawrence “American Hustle”
10. Carey Mulligan “Inside Llewyn Davis”