Monday, October 15, 2012

Fall Essentials: Movies Edition

So we all know that we're not in some freaking golden age of cinema. Despite all of the crap that bogs down cinemas, there are many movies worth seeing. I urge you to make an effort to see these in a movie theater. Watching movies on a gorgeous giant screen is not only superbly fun, but allows you to take in everything. Filmmakers (at least the ones doing things the right way) don't choose things (things being wardrobe, shot composition, set design) arbitrarily. The many choices they make cannot always be appreciated from a 13" laptop screen. Another reason is that seeing movies with people is so vastly different from seeing movies without people. With people you are engaging in a shared experience that typically colors your thinking on that particular movie. It's half of what movies are all about. Now, without further lecturing on GOING TO THE MOVIES, here are my top picks for the rest of the year. I might be way off base, but here goes nothing.

1. The Master

September 14th

With a killer cast, a crazy yet realistic concept, and Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights) at the helm, this is one to see. Don't expect a feel-good romp. Expect to come out of that theater either (a) confused, (b) depressed about humanity, or (c) numb. My expectation for whenever I see it is a combination of all three. No matter the outcome I'm excited to see Joaquin Phoenix back in the saddle in his first role since 2008 under the watchful and commanding eyes of Philip Seymour Hoffman.

2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

September 21st

For those who haven't read this book, it's a touching, realistic, sometimes gritty, often beautiful look at teens that isn't a bit patronizing. With a cast of vibrant 20-somethings that are all carving out their places in the acting world with amazing foresight, and the author Stephen Chbosky directing the likes of Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Logan Lerman, and Mae Whitman, this will no doubt be a faithful retelling of a brilliant coming-of-age story. Make space next to The Breakfast Club.


This movie is as beautiful and lyrical as the book. It's bottled magic that is so internal that you can feel every heartbeat. The cast is brilliant, each filling their niche in ways that are beyond truthful to the book. Every feeling from every character is so vividly transposed to the audience that it can be hard to watch, especially as everything is spinning out of control. Extra kudos to Ezra Miller for so fully embracing the spirit of this story and being a character worth remembering and carrying with you.

3. Looper

September 28th

I have been waiting for Rian Johnson's (Brick, The Brothers Bloom) (do you know how cool his family is? Hello, Nathan Johnson, Marke Johnson) third movie for about three years? I've lost count. It is being promoted as a film about time traveling assassins called loopers and what happens when they close their loop by killing themselves essentially. If you're not curious already then you might not have a pulse. Don't be put off by this just being an "action" movie. It's so firmly centered on the characters.


If you do plan on seeing Looper, take my and Rian Johnson's advice in avoiding trailers as much as possible. Go in fresh, let the movie unfold before you. It is about so much more than it's advertised at. Every shot is beautiful. All the details count. There was more humor than you'd expect and quite a lot of brutality. The story is fresh and a little bleak but also thrilling. The plot takes twists and turns and winds around the whole time.

4. Argo

October 12th

All you Ben Affleck critics out there - hold your horses, he's awesome. 1. BOSTON. 2. He's a superb director, and his acting's not that bad. Plus, he's the older brother of Casey Affleck so that makes up for his not-always-awesome acting. Both The Town and Gone Baby Gone were brilliant and chilling to the bone. Affleck knows Boston and he knows exactly how to get what he wants from his actors and how to give life to the picture. I think half of this is that he treats his location as an additional character. He paces stories well and gives them twists.


Argo is a spectacular movie. Ever since Gone Baby Gone I have been a fan of Affleck's directing and this only reinforced that opinion. This film is especially relevant today given the unrest between America and the Middle East. From the opening scene through just about all of the movie the suspense is practically tangible. Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston provide some laughs, which gives the movie a nice balance and the rest of the cast delivers. The plot, based on a very true story, is partly terrifying, in that we seem to be in an endless loop with the Middle East, and partly miraculous in that the rescue mission is so ridiculous that it's brilliant.

5. Seven Psychopaths

October 12th

Colin Farrell won me over with In Bruges, also directed by Martin McDonagh. It's dark, but incredibly funny and he is remarkable in that. Since then, I've made an effort to see movies of his..... not Total Recall, obviously, but others, like London Boulevard, Ondine, and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. The title alone promises a crazy, if not, well, psychotic romp. When you find out it's set in the movie world and criminal underworld and also has Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, and Christopher Walken, how could it possibly fail?

6. Cloud Atlas

October 26th

It looks crazy. This is another rare risky movie that could end up not working but has a completely brilliant all-star cast including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, and Susan Sarandon that will pull it off... hopefully. Multiple timelines spanning far in the past to the unforeseeable future and actors playing multiple characters will prove to be a master class in acting, directing, and great movie-making. I have no idea what to expect and I hope to keep it that way.

7. Lincoln

November 9th

Daniel Day Lewis is the ultimate chameleon actor. Seeing him morph into Lincoln with Spielberg's direction will either be the ultimate success or most dismal failure. After the first trailer came out I'm curious about the whole voice thing. The movie's Oscar bait though and should be interesting. It will be interesting to see where they put the focus in terms of his life.

8. Skyfall

November 9th

Daniel Craig makes for a different and exciting Bond and I'm thrilled for him to be returning for his third installment, directed by Sam Mendes (Revolutionary Road, American Beauty). They're also bringing back characters like Q in the form of Ben Whishaw and I couldn't be happier. Javier Bardem will be villainous as only he can and everything should be electric.


So don't hate me, but I think this was a really stellar Bond film. I saw Casino Royale once when it came out and to be honest can't remember it well enough to compare these two movies, but I can give you my reasons for loving this one. It's more British than I think some other Bond films are. There are exotic locations like always, yes, but with the home base being directly attacked, so much takes place in London, which I thought provided a slightly different tone. It was not campy, but it still retained some of the flamboyant nature of the Bond movies but in very subtle, slight details. Bardem has so much fun and it shows. He fills out every layer of the character. The idea of Bond getting too old was new and gave the movie a little more gravity. Craig and Dench had great chemistry and watching the two of them together was quite fun and the new supporting players Whishaw and Fiennes rounded out the cast wonderfully.

9. Anna Karenina

November 16th

Do the trailers seem a tad theatrical? That's because Joe Wright (of Pride & Prejudice and Atonement) is setting the epic story completely in a theater. This bold take will be one to be remembered. It is Keira Knightley and Wright's third collaboration and both have proven their worth with period work. Add in Jude Law and up-and-comer Aaron Taylor-Johnson, best known for Kick-Ass and everything about this movie looks interesting.


This was a movie with an unbelievable amount of potential that it didn't quite live up to. Wright's vision was compelling but inconsistent, and somehow, the incredibly layered characters became rather one dimensional. It was disappointing because it really could have been spectacular but it fell flat and I hated just about every single portrayal of every character.

10. Silver Linings Playbook

November 21st

Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper star in this movie from David O. Russell (The Fighter) about people with some major baggage making things work. Lawrence has had quite the hot streak lately, following an Oscar nomination in Winter's Bone and the starring role in THE series The Hunger Games. Cooper can speak French...oh, I mean, Cooper's come into leading man status as of late. If the chemistry between the two of them is good, nothing should stop this movie from being a success.


Silver Linings is beautiful. It certainly wasn't the flashiest movie of the season and that's part of what makes it so wonderful. The focus is on the performances and Russell lets them shine. Cooper and Lawrence (new Academy Award winner for this part) have brilliant chemistry. They work together perfectly and somehow balance out each other's craziness. They're fighting each step they take and they've both built up so much armor against love and then they finally see what they have and it's just lovely. All of the supporting players are great too! De Niro, especially.

12. Killing Them Softly

November 30th

Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, and the mob. Sounds golden to me! With Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) directing, and teaming up with Pitt again after the utterly remarkable Jesse James, this is sure to be just as spine-tingling as their first collaboration.

13. Hyde Park on Hudson

December 7th

First of all, the title alone is very close to my heart! I go to school at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY, the neighbor of Hyde Park, on the Hudson River. Top that off with Bill Murray, the king of kings, playing FDR with Laura Linney by his side and it makes for a rollicking good time, I think.

14. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

December 14th

Like most fans of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy (again, anyone with a pulse), I was practically jumping up and down when I heard that, after SO many delays in production, Jackson himself was finally taking the lead on two Hobbit movies, which have since been extended to three Hobbit movies. That Martin Freeman is playing Bilbo only makes me that much happier. I can't wait to have the new gang (of dwarves, headed by Richard Armitage) uniting with the old gang (come on, Ian McKellen's back as Gandalf of course). Each of the three movies should be plenty meaty and filled with spectacularly beautiful details.


It is very long... maybe a bit unnecessarily. I don't care though. This might just be a declaration of how much of a nerd I am, but it felt really good to be back in Middle Earth. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was what made me realize just how much I love movies - both the production and the actual result, so to be back adventuring along with Bilbo and Gandalf was enjoyable no matter how long Peter Jackson wants to take with it. It definitely kicks into gear once they get under the mountain and Gollum arrives. Each of the dwarves is very clearly identified and none of them get lost in the mix which is practically a miracle.

15. On the Road

December 21st

It's Kristen Stewart and Garrett Hedlund, I know, please don't roll your eyes at me. It's the Kerouac story that I'm more interested in, as well as Amy Adams, Steve Buscemi, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, and Elisabeth Moss. This could fail miserably, and I won't be that upset, but it could also prove to capture the same energy as Kerouac's iconic book. Basically, if you ignore any of the movies on this list, ignore this one.

16. Django Unchained

December 25th

Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds) is not only the king of pop culture, but he is such a masterful, creative director and writer and I enjoy basically anything he does. This next film of his (Merry Christmas??) is about a slave-turned-bounty hunter (Jamie Foxx) fighting to save his wife (Kerry Washington). With Leonardo DiCaprio as the villain and Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson joining in all of the fun, this should be as colorful and crazy as all of his previous movies.


This is definitely not my favorite Tarantino movie, but it was still very good. I actually enjoyed the first half that's basically just Foxx and Waltz hanging out together. Waltz is brilliant per usual and it was interesting to see him playing a morally ambiguous but not villainous character. Foxx, at the center, keeps the movie going the whole time. Honestly, Kerry Washington's character seems more like an excuse to see the delightfully evil wickedness of Leonardo DiCaprio who is having a blast. It just spirals into such an evil place, which isn't different for Tarantino, but something about the tone is to sugary, like Calvin himself.

17. Les Miserables

December 25th

Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) is being quite ambitious. Not only is he adapting the brilliant, tortured musical to the screen, he is doing it in a way that is so rare these days. Rather than having his actors, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmane, Samantha Barks, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Aaron Tveit lip synch to previously recorded performances on set, they sang every note themselves in the moment. This will provide an authenticity and honesty to everybody's performances that would not have been achieved otherwise. Basically, I'm beyond excited.


I enjoyed this a lot, meaning I spent the better part of three hours crying. The best performances were delivered by Jackman, Hathaway, Carter, and Cohen. The best vocal performances were courtesy of Hathaway, Barks, and Tveit. It was by no means a perfect production but I think they were smart about it. Doing this exactly like it's performed on stage would have been too much. It would have been in your face and uncomfortable. Since film is in some ways more intimate, they toned down some of the performances vocally and made them more emotionally honest, which can't be done in that way on stage. Hathaway is a marvel.

Enjoy your fall movie-going!

Song of the Moment: Whispers in the Dark by Mumford and Sons

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