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A Definitive, Indisputable, Unarguable Ranking of the Coen Bro’s Films

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

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2013 Silver Screen Riot Awards

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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.

Best Actor:

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WINNER: Leonardo DiCaprio ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’
Runner Up: Christian Bale ‘Out of the Furance’ & ‘American Hustle’
Honorable Mention: Ethan Hawke ‘Before Midnight’

Also:
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:

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WINNER: Jared Leto ‘Dallas Buyers Club’
Runner Up: Jonah Hill ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’

Honorable Mention:  Geoffrey Rush ‘The Book Thief’

Also:
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.

Best Actress:

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WINNER: Meryl Streep ‘August: Osage County’
Runner Up: Julie Delpy ‘Before Midnight’
Honorable Mention: Scarlett Johansson ‘Her’

Also:
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:

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WINNER: Julia Roberts “August: Osage County”
Runner Up: Margot Robbie “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Honorable Mention: Kristen Scott Thomas ‘Only God Forgives’

Also:
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.

Best Director

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WINNER: Spike Jonze ‘Her’
Runner Up: Richard Linklater ‘Before Midnight’
Honorable Mention: Steve McQueen ’12 Years a Slave’

Also:
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.

Best Ensemble:

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WINNER: American Hustle
Runner Up: The Wolf of Wall Street
Honorable Mention: August: Osage County

Also:
12 Years a Slave
This is the End
The Counselor

Best Cinematography

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WINNER: Sean Bobbitt ’12 Years A Slave’
Runner Up: Emmanuel Lubezki ‘Gravity’
Honorable Mention: Roger Deakins ‘Prisoners’

Also:
Phedon Papamichael ‘Nebraska’
Hoyte Van Hoytema ‘Her’
Bruno Delbonnel ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’
John R. Leonetti ‘The Conjuring’
Yves Bélanger ‘Lawrence Anyways’

Best Foreign Film

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WINNER: The Hunt
Runner Up: Laurence Anyways
Honorable Mention: Populaire

Also:
Wajdja
Blue is the Warmest Color
Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus

Best Documentary:

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WINNER: The Act of Killing
Runner Up: Cutie and the Boxer
Honorable Mention: Dirty Wars

Also:
The Crash Reel
Blackfish
The Square
Somm

Best Song

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WINNER: “Fare Thee Well” – Inside Llewyn Davis
Runner Up: “Young and Beautiful” – Great Gatsby
Honorable Mention: “Doby” – Anchorman 2: The Journey Continues

Also:
“Please Mr. Kennedy – Inside Llewy6n Davis
“The Moon Song – Inside Llewyn Davis
“In Summer – Frozen
“Oblivion” – Oblivion

Best Scene:

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WINNER: Her ‘When it All Goes Dark’
Runner Up: The Wolf of Wall Street “Lemmons 714”
Honorable Mention: Before Midnight ‘Letter from the Future’

Also:
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.

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The Infamous Top Ten of 2013

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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.

Honorable Mentions:

Populaire
Frozen
Stoker
The World’s End
Elysium
Oblivion
Rush
Mud
Blackfish
This is the End

Outskirts:

All is Lost
The Hunt
The Conjuring
Laurence Anyways
Captain Phillips
Prisoners
What Maisie Knew
Fruitvale Station
Frances Ha
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.

8. NEBRASKA

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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

7. GRAVITY

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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