Thursday, September 19, 2013

A film critic's holiday 2013 notebook

This coming holiday season has the strongest slate in recent memory--so much so that Variety is turning out articles like "Toronto: Should There Be (Gasp!) 20 Best Picture Nominees This Year?" That's in stark contrast to earlier sentiments about the change in the number of the Academy's Best Picture nominees, like the 2011 Hollywood Reporter headline "Why Oscars' 10 Best Picture Nominees Experiment Failed." Plus, some of the upcoming pictures don't just look good, they've already been seen and applauded by critics and festival audiences alike. Twelve Years a Slave and Gravity, which both screened at Toronto and Telluride, received excellent early notices from the press, and they're right at the top of my to-see list. Here's the highlights from my viewing list for the rest of 2013.

My Picks for Pure Viewing Pleasure
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: Star Jennifer Lawrence has proven herself outside the young adult ring by winning an Oscar, and fans (myself included) can't wait to see the second in this dystopian series.
About Time: The director of Love Actually takes gawky-cute Domhnall Gleeson (one of the Weasley brothers in the Harry Potter series) and
pairs him with Rachel McAdams. And gives him Bill Nighy as a father. What's not to love?

American hustle

Pure Viewing Pleasure that will likely come with an Oscar stamp of approval
American Hustle & The Wolf of Wall Street both take jubilant looks at criminals. They're set in the past, but I'm sure commentators will be making connections to current events, especially given the latter film's focus on finance.
1953's Stalag 17 and 1963's Great Escape were among the first World War II movies to actually take a light tone on the war. The Monuments Men, about masterpiece-recovering GIs, is a step back from the over-the-top Nazi caricatures in 2009's Inglourious Basterds, but it should leave most of the fun intact.

Movies that will ooze drama
The Coen Brothers are reliabli prolific filmmakers, and Inside Llewyn Davis
has extra appeal thanks to the inclusion of real musicians Justin
Timberlake and Marcus Mumford (the latter's voice appears in the
Movie theatre seats are much more comfortable than Broadway's tiny cushions. I missed August: Osage County back when it was a play, but I won't mind seeing it with a tub of popcorn in a theatre.
It's hard to even know what category to put Gravity into, but at this point my expectations are as high above Earth as its leading lady, Sandra Bullock. Director Alfonso Cuaron appears to have done something really special with this film, both technically and narratively, and I think it will please people with all different kinds of tastes.

12 years a slave
(Would-be) Weepies
I've heard from Telluride that Labor Day is a surefire tearjerker, and as a fan of Kate Winslet, it's a hands-down must see. Reports of damp eyes have also come from Twelve Years a Slave, which will likely be one of the most talked-about films this year, especially given the great odds it has right now of ending up on the Oscar podium.

The trailer for Foxcatcher still hasn't released, making it one of the last end-of-year holdouts. The real-life tale is tragic, and I can't imagine Moneyball director Bennett Miller putting a funny spin on this dark tale of Olympic greatness foiled. But Steve Carell as an eccentric millionaire is definitely one role I want to see on the big screen.
Likewise, Lone Survivor is based on a real-life tragedy, with an unhappy ending appended. It's likely more about bravery than tears (these are soldiers, after all), but that doesn't mean the audience will feel just as stoic. As a huge fan of the realistic, gripping feel of Zero Dark Thirty, I'm hoping that the Mark Wahlberg-led picture will borrow some of that verisimilitude.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has heartwarming written all over it, and it's just the kind of toasty film that's great to catch with family around the holidays. I predict this one will be a big hit, in the vein of other holiday warm-fuzzies like Marley & Me, The Blind Side, and The Pursuit of Happyness. It's also likely to gain the praise of critics, given its placement on numerous lists predicting the Best Picture competition.

Just as all these movies are coming out, Screener will be led by a new voice. After five years of helming the Screener blog for Film Journal International, I'm passing on my reins, and tomorrow will be my last post. Cheers to all, and happy viewing.

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