Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Hello, I Must Be Going...But Not That Far

Yes dear readers, in the immortal words of one Mister Julius Henry 'Groucho' Marx - hello, I must be going.  But not to worry, for my going is not going to be all that far away. In fact it's just across the proverbial, make-believe hall from here. It has been a fun four and a half years being your host with the most, here at The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World, but now it is time to move on. But, as I said above, I'll be right across the hall, cyberly speaking that is.  From now on, all my writing can be found at my new blog, cleverly titled (?) All Things Kevyn. I will still be writing on the cinema (my first true love) but I will be expanding that writing to include all things of a pop culture bent.  To give a better idea of what I am doing these days, here is my official bio:

Kevyn Knox is a Blogger, Film Historian + Critic, a Comicbook Nerd from waaay back, a lapsed Cartoonist, a wouldbe Novelist, and the Writer of All Things Kevyn.  For four and a half years, he and his wife ran Midtown Cinema, Harrisburg Pa's one and only arthouse cinema, but last year Knox moved on to other adventures, most prominently, the creation of his renowned blog, appropriately titled All Things Kevyn.  Tackling any subject that happens to cross his mind that day (the blog's subtitle reads, "Anything that pops into my head, might just pop up on this blog. So there!"), All Things Kevyn is a catch-all of pop cultural reference, and no matter the subject, be it cinema or comics or music or TV or any one of the author's famed top ten lists, you can be sure it is imbued with Knox's lovingly warped, yet quite wry, sense of humour, as well as presented in his Post-Proustian, digression-happy writing style.  You just never know what you're going to get at All Things Kevyn, but you know it's going to be fun, and very possibly like nothing you've ever seen before.  Well, that's it, and as Kevyn is prone to say at the end of any one of his posts, see ya 'round the web.

So, with that being said, I bid a tearful adieu to The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World while also saying a boisterous how ya doin' to All Things Kevyn. This new blog will act as the hub of what I like to call The All Things Kevyn Entertainment Network, where all my writing from all across the blogosphere, will be linked. I hope that you will follow me over to my new online home.  Sure, this site will still be up and running, but nothing new will be published here, instead acting as an archives of my past cinematic writings. Everything new will be at All Things Kevyn. Hope to see you at my new digs. It'll be lots of fun, trust me. That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Film Review: Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty

So far, anyone and everyone who has reviewed this The Great Beauty, or La Grande Bellezza in its native Italian tongue, has one descriptive in common - and that descriptive is highlighted by everyone's favourite F-word.  And by everyone's favourite F-word, I of course mean Felliniesque.  From the first deliciously giddy moments to the grand morality tale finale, Paolo Sorrentino's latest film is possibly more akin to a Fellini film than any film since Fellini himself was making movies.  Hell, this film is so Felliniesque, it may be even more like a Fellini film than many of Fellini's own films.  Okay, perhaps that is just hyperbole, but seriously, this film is quite the spectacle to behold, and the blatant influence of Sorrentino's late great countryman, has to be the major reason why.  But none of this obvious influence, or over-use of that aforementioned F-word, should take away from the post-modern sensibilities and stunning film work brought forth by this post-realist, post-Fellini auteur.

Tackling many of the same concerns that Fellini (there he is again) played with in his masterful La Dolce Vita, Sorrentino takes a look at Jep Gambardella, an aging writer, and popular partier-cum-Roman pseudo-celebrity, upon his 65th birthday, as he tries to figure out what has happened to, and what will now happen to his life.  The juicy, contemplative role of Jep, Sorrentino's modern channeling of Marcello Mastroianni's Marcello Rubini in (here he is again) Fellini's La Dolce Vita, is played with plenty of aplomb by 54 year old actor Toni Servillo, most notably seen in Matteo Garrone's brilliant Gomorrah, and Sorrentino's own Il Divo. His performance is a centerpiece looking all around him at the titular great beauty, or grande bellezza, that is Roma, the Eternal City.  Acting, much in the way Mastroianni did in La Dolce Vita, as a visual narrator of the sometimes decadent, sometimes mournful world of Roman society, Servillo's Jep is the proverbial lost soul in search of meaning in an otherwise unfulfilled life of constant parties and drink and women.  A one time promising novelist, now relegated to writing cheap articles on Roman high society and its esoteric art world, Jep looks back on a life possibly wasted, longing for true companionship while simultaneously running from it, and yearning for his lost first love. It is as stunning a performance as the film itself is a stunning work of art.

Sorrentino's film, as Felliniesque as it wants to be (I keep going back to that F-word, don't I?), is essentially the story of a human tragedy, but not the kind usually associated with the genre of tragedy.  For all intents and purposes, Jep is a successful person, a celebrated member of Rome's upper crust society, but inside he is lost and lonely and unsure of his true place in the world.  He is part of a faux society, trapped inside a spiraling circle that leads deeper and deeper into despair and hopelessness, with no idea of how to escape this outwardly happy, inwardly depressing lifestyle.  Servillo gives this multifaceted character the most bravura of performances (his chutzpah is off the so-called charts), and this performance is integral in making the film work, but it is Sorrentino giving his all as director, that lifts this tragedy to near epic proportions.  With a swirling camera that takes in the great tragic beauty that is his Eternal City, a camera-eye that wraps itself up down around and through the heart of Rome's society, Sorrentino engulfs us with a visually Felliniesque (yep, that word again) brouhaha, showcasing both the city itself and Servillo's wayward Jep, and it all comes out so beautifully, it almost hurts.  Easily one of the best films of the year (and the probable winner of the Best Foreign Language Oscar), F-word laced or not, this old school cinephile was quite surprised as to not have the film end with a shot of Servillo turning away from the camera and walking down the beach.  La Dolce Vita, indeed.

This review can also be read over at my main blog, All Things Kevyn.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Film Review: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's The Lego Movie

Sure, it may be, as some are prone to gripe, just a kid's movie.  Sure, it may be just a PG-rated Robot Chicken, and therefore sadly lacking in the guts department.  Sure, it may just be this generation's pale distant cousin of my generation's Who Framed Roger Rabbit - well, kinda.  Sure, it may be all these things, and therefore nothing this critic, no matter how immature and still living in his own childhood he may be, would be all that interested in, other than perhaps just to see what all the hubbub's about, bub.  So, with soda and popcorn in hand, and surrounded by what I would approximate as half a million children (which included a two-row sectioned off birthday party area), I hunkered down to see just what all the hubbub was about, bub.  Surprisingly, the hubbub was more accurate than I would have expected.  Even more surprisingly, with the exception of one little girl's scream at the supposed peril of the film's hero at one point, these aforementioned half a million children sat in relative silence during the film's hour and forty-two minute runtime.  So there.

As for the story of The Lego Movie, it is typical archetype stuff.  A simple everyman, Emmet Brickowoski (voiced by Chris Pratt), living his mundane simple life, stumbles upon a magical prophecy of which he must fulfill in order to save the world from the evil doings of Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell).  Along the way, the often oblivious Emmet is joined on his quest by a manic panic-haired heroine ridiculously named Wyldestyle (Elizabeth Banks), the wizened blind wizard Vitruvius (the seemingly omnipresent voice of Mr. Morgan Freeman), a candy-coated creepy-ass unicorn hybrid of a Lego and My Little Pony (Community's Allison Brie), a cobbled-together pirate monstrosity (Nick Offerman), an over eager 1980's spaceman Lego guy (Charlie Day), and of course, Batman (Will Arnett putting that famed raspy voice to great use), included most likely because he gets butts in seats, baby.  Also featuring the voice of Liam Neeson as the bi-polar Bad Cop/Good Cop henchman of Lord Business, and a slew of other Lego characters (Superman, Wonder Woman, Abraham Lincoln, Shakespeare, an incessantly nagging Green Lantern voiced by Jonah Hill, as well as some fun little cameo appearances, one of them staying especially classy), The Lego Movie is actually a lot of fun.  Perhaps not to the level of some other toy-related animated films (cough, cough...the Toy Story franchise), but still a fun little movie.  So there...again.

With that said, I would have loved to have seen, instead of a PG-rated Robot Chicken, an actual Robot Chicken version of this film.  I know, I know, the damn thing's aimed at a much younger set than I, but still the possibilities of a pop culture wonderland in the form of Legos is a pretty spectacular idea.  But alas, instead of many of the pop references that coulda woulda shoulda filled this film (there are some cute references, but nothing compared to something like the Pixar gang or the Shrek films, or shows such as The Simpsons and Family Guy, or dare I say Robot Chicken) we are left with a fun, but still not as fun as it could be film.  Sure, this may be a small gripe in the whole scheme of things, for it is an enjoyable film (and has a nice non-conformity message), and judging from the lack of bothersome, disgruntled children in the screening I attended, its intended audience is more than pleased as punch, so who am I to argue.  Let's just keep it at my original assessment of it being a fun little film, and go on about our respective lives.  After all, in a case such as this, my problems don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy critical world.  I was once taken to task by the six year old son of a friend of mine, for not giving good enough reviews of animated films, so perhaps I should best leave well enough alone, and finish this review with the title of the movie's purposefully annoying hit song - everything is awesome.  So there.

This review can also be read at my main blog, All Things Kevyn.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Film Review: John Wells & Tracy Letts' August: Osage County

When I say something along the lines of Julia Roberts gives the best damn performance of her career in August: Osage County, it is not all that bold a statement.  After years of playing in films below her ability (she is actually a fine actress, just a bad role taker, as it were), it would not be that difficult to overtake such performances as those found in the silly slapstick rom-coms, holier-than-thou melodramas, and cheap wouldbe thrillers, the actress is so fond of finding herself.  On the other hand, when I say a statement such as, Meryl Streep gives her career best performance in August: Osage County as well, then we are in definite bold statement territory - damn bold statement territory, indeed.  Is this all true though?  Well ladies and gentleman, hold onto your hats and bonnets, because it may very well be true. Perhaps to keep the hyperbolic owls at bay, I should probably rearrange that latter statement to read, if not the best, but surely one of La Streep's finest performances, but such a downgrade should not hide the fact that her performance in August, a performance that has garnered the iconic actress her ever-increasing unprecedented eighteenth Oscar nomination, is right up there with her jobs in Sophie's Choice, Silkwood, and Ironweed. So there.

In truth though (and Streep's mean-minded matriarch prides herself on being a truth teller) it is not just Streep and, more surprisingly, Roberts who run away with this film, for this is a production, as should be the case with such a stage play turned motion picture (at least ideally), that is chock full of bravura performances - a stacked deck, if you will.  Beyond Streep and Roberts, as mother and daughter Violet Weston and Barbara Weston-Fordham, we also get a slew of stunning and powerful (and all those other appropriate adjectives and descriptives) performances from the likes of Julianne Nicholson as middle sister Ivy, Juliette Lewis as baby sister Karen, Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper as Violet's sister and brother-in-law respectively, Benedict Cumberbatch as 'Little' Charles, woebegone cousin to the three sisters, Dermot Mulroney as Karen's lascivious fiance (my wife tells me that Mulroney can play sleazy with the best of 'em), Ewan McGregor as Barbara's wandering husband, Little Miss Sunshine Abigail Breslin as their fourteen-going-on-forty daughter, and Sam Shepard as family patriarch Beverly Weston.  Not a dud in any of these performances. Personally I think Nicholson, Martindale, and Cooper should have been awarded Oscar nominations as well, but then again, maybe that's just me.

Based on Terry Letts' award-winning play, and adapted for the screen by Mr. Letts himself (the film is directed by John Wells, best known for his role as exec producer on TV's Southland), August: Osage County is the story of a dysfunctional family living in the small town plains of Oklahoma.  And when I say dysfunctional, I mean that in the whole nine yards kind of way.  As the film progresses, more and more layers are peeled away, onion-like, and more and more skeletons fall out of the collective family closets, each one a bigger and more disturbing revelation than the ones that came before.  Layer upon layer, skeleton piled up on skeleton, this cast keeps pushing the so-called envelope, further and further and further along, until the inevitable explosion happens, and everything is laid bare, and ugly, and psychologically scarred what could very well be far beyond any thoughts of repair.  Letts' words are a big big part of this, of course (Hitchcock's idea that the three most important things in a movie are screenplay, screenplay, and screenplay, will always be a truism to a point), but if not for the courage of the fearless cast, this Minnow could very well be lost - but not to worry, for they are more than up to the difficult task ahead.  Dare I even say that this is the most well acted movie this critic has seen in a long long long time.  Bravura indeed, and brava as well.

This review can also be read over at my main site, All Things Kevyn.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

My 25 Most Anticipated Films of 2014

Well, it's that time of the year again.  All the hoopla of the past year's top tens has finally died down, and even though we still have the Oscars coming up, it's time to turn our eyes toward the cinematic goings-on of 2014.  In other words, here's a list of the twenty-five (or so) films that I am most looking forward to this coming year.  So, without further ado, here we go.  Let's count 'em down.

25. Life Itself - A documentary based on the memoir of the late great Roger Ebert, directed by Steve James, the man who made Hoop Dreams, a documentary that Ebert was integral in making a success back in 1994.  Oh you tricky little circle of life you.  Whether James captures Ebert or not, just the chance to watch the life of the most influential critic on this critic, puts the film on the list.

24. 22 Jump Street - After the surprising success of the first film (before the film came out I was expecting it to be part of my worst of the year list, instead of a runner-up on my best list) Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill move across the street, and take their somewhat surprisingly hilarious high school act into the local college.  Second films tend to go downhill from the original (well, it would be the semi-original in this case) but since the first one surprised so well, why not again?  We'll see.

23. Godzilla - After the beyond disastrous 1998 version, many are holding their collective breath waiting for the May release of this monster.  At the helm is Gareth Edwards, who went straight from the extremely low budget monster movie, Monsters, to the extremely high budget monster movie, Godzilla, and I suppose many are wondering if he is up to the task.  But hey, with Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Bryan Cranston in the cast, how can ya not be excited over seeing Kick-Ass and Walter White battle the big G-Dogg?

22. Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Cap has always been one of my faves in the comics, stoic and Gary Cooper-esque (and especially brilliant when written by Ed Brubaker), and the first film was a much better film than many gave it credit for being.  Now we get the old guy in the modern world, assisted by Black Widow and having to fight the Winter Soldier.  As a comicbook nerd, this sounds like fun to me.

21. Boxtrolls - I've a secret to tell.  I love stop-motion animation.  No, really, I love love love it.  Can't get enough of it kinda love.  Give me stop-motion or give me death!  With all that out there, it is a safe bet that I am excited to see the latest stop-motion movie by the same animation studio that gave us Coraline and Paranorman (and in their early days, those dancing California Raisins of the 1980's).  Can't wait for September.

20. Assassin - From one of the most cerebral filmmakers of Asia, Taiwan's Hou Hsiao-hsien, now gives us something that seems more in the Wong Kar-wai vein of things - a period piece about an assassin.  Granted, it could be delayed until 2015, but right now, it looks like it may make it to the states by year's end.  Of course, Hou being Hou (and Hou's will be Hou's - I crack myself up sometimes), this is probably not going to be the mainstreamiest of movies, so NYC and LA are it's only real potential hot spots.

19. How To Catch a Monster - Christina Hendricks and Saoirse Ronan star in this fantasy-thriller that also just so happens to be the directorial debut of one, Mr. Ryan Gosling.  Hopefully the actor, who has more than proven himself on this side of the camera, has learned a thing or two about directing while working with the likes of Derek Cianfrance and Nicolas Winding Refn.

18. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For - The graphic noir gang is all back together again, including co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller (the writer of the original novels), and stars Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson, and Mickey Rourke, now joined by new kids on the block, Eva Green, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Brolin, Juno Temple, and even Lady Gaga.

17. Two Days, One Night - The Belgium-born Dardenne Brothers, the duo that gave us such brilliant cinema of endurance films as Rosetta, L'Enfant, and The Kid with a Bike, are back with a film that, thanks to lead Marion Cotillard (the biggest name the directors have ever had in one of their films), could be their most seen film here in the states.  Okay, maybe not that big of a hit, but I do love the Dardennes. Why the hell don't you!?

16. Birdman - From the man who gave the world the Mexican New Wave hit Amores Perros, as well as 21 Grams, this new film about a washed-up actor, starring Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, and Naomi Watts, will hopefully make us forget the disheveled and ultimately mediocre Babel, and bring us back to the director's earlier works.

15. X-Men: Days of Future Past - As an X-Men fan from waaay back, long before the movies, long before Wolverine was in every comic made by Marvel, an way before the Phoenix or The Days of Future Past, I quiver at the possibilities of this film, but I also shudder at the possibility of this film sucking the royal teat.  This one really could go either way, and it worries me.  Will it be as good as First Class or as band as Last Stand?  After seeing some of the costumes and such in Empire Magazine this week, my worries have risen.  Even with these worries, I still place this film rather high on my list.  I mean, it is the X-Men after all.

14. Boyhood - This Richard Linklater project, filmed intermittently between 2002 and 2013, takes a look at more than a decade in the life of a boy as he deals with his divorced parents, played by Patricia Arquette and Linklater buddy Ethan Hawke.  Sort of a fictional version of the Up series, or perhaps a bit akin to Truffaut's Antoine Doinel series, the chameleonic auteur does it again - hopefully.

13. The Grand Budapest Hotel - I sort of have a love/hate relationship with Wes Anderson.  I think the guy is a talented filmmaker, and has a fun visual style to his work, but at the same time, the filmmaker hero to all the hipsters, seems to keep making the exact same movie over and over again, and this one, judging from the trailer, looks to be no different.  Alas poor Wes, let's change it up a bit next time, huh?

12. Guardians of the Galaxy - Forget Spidey, Cap, and all those Marvelous Mutants, this is the super hero movie to watch for. Why?  Because no one really knows what it is going to be.  Outside of the comic-reading world (a place where I reside) no one really knows who the hell these guys are, and unlike known properties such as the aforementioned Spidey, Cap, and The X-Men, there's no telling what director James Gunn (incidentally also the director of the fun genre pieces Super and Slither, as well as the writer of Zack Snyder's fantastic Dawn of the Dead remake) will do.  I am Groot!  We are all Groot!!  Those inside the comic-reading world will love that last joke, the rest of you will just have to wait until August.

11. Noah - Normally, I would not be all that interested in a big budget biblical epic, but the fact that Darren Aronofsky is directing this one, and Russell Crowe is starring, gives it a spot at number eleven.  We also get Jennifer Connelly as Noah's little missus, Emma Watson as his daughter, and Anthony Hopkins as good old Methuselah.  Judging from the trailer, the movie does look like a big fat CGI fest, but hopefully the guy who gave us Black Swan, can help it be more than just that.

10. Night Moves - After playing at both Venice and Toronto last year, as well as being on my most anticipated films of 2013 list (whoops), the latest film from Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, Meek's Cutoff), will finally get it's long-awaited US debut later this year.  The film will also showcase the first major adult role for former child starlet Dakota Fanning.

9. Ex Machina - A psycho-tech-thriller, robot romance-esque sci-fi film written and directed by the guy who wrote the screenplays for 28 Days Later..., Sunshine, and Never Let Me Go, and starring Oscar Isaac, fresh off his brilliant turn in Inside Llewyn Davis?  How could we not be excited by this?  In fact, you'd have to be a machine to not be excited about this.  See what I did there?  Yup.

8. While We're Young - Granted, this is another one of those films that may not see the light of day (or the dark of the cinema, if you will) until 2015, but chances are still rather strong that it will be out in late Fal, in time for an Oscar run.  The film is written and directed by Noah Baumbach (Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha) and will star Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts, among many others.

7. Interstellar - Starring soon-to-be Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey, along with Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burstyn, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, and Michael Caine, this sci-fi film from Christopher Nolan (you know, the guy who directed Memento, The Prestige, Inception, Insomnia, and the Dark Knight Trilogy), is on pretty much everyone's anticipatory lips these days.  I must admit to not being a huge fan of Inception (I think it lacked a solid third act, and tried too hard to explain what should have been left unexplained) nor the final Dark Knight film (lackluster compared to it's immediate predecessor), but the rest of the auteur's oeuvre intact, I am greatly looking forward to this one.

6. Magic in the Moonlight - Believe it or not, this is not being called the Untitled Woody Allen Project, as has been the case during filming of the director's past films.  Set in 1920's French Riviera, the film stars Emma Stone, Colin Firth, Hamish Linklater, Jacki Weaver, and Marcia Gay Harden.  Granted, the Woodman has been hit or miss the past two decades or so (and he is going through some tough times of late, with ugly allegations being tossed and tweeted his way), but I am hoping this is more in Midnight in Paris, Match Point, Blue Jasmine territory and less in the Scoop or Whatever Works realm.

5. Gone Girl - David Fincher, one of the best directors working today (I mean, c'mon - Panic Room, Fight Club, Se7en, Zodiac, The Social Network, his American remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo!!), is back, and tackling the best seller, Gone Girl, with Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike.  Dark and sinister, and both visually and psychologically harrowing, are things we should expect from this film.  Hell, with a filmography such as his, how could we not.  I know I can't wait.

4. Jane Got A Gun - This long-anticipated (in the works for three years now) Natalie Portman western was originally to be directed by Lynne Ramsey, but after she walked due to problems with the studio (Jude Law walked as well, having only signed on in order to work with Ramsey), Gavin O'Conner (Tumbleweeds) took over the helm, and finally, we may actually get to see the film later this year.  I know, I'm excited to see one of my favourite actresses starring in one of my favorite genres.  Hopefully all the pre-production problems did not hurt the final product.

3. The Terrence Malick Kerfuffle - Supposedly, Terrence Malick is working on three films right now, and no one is really sure which will come first, and when it will eventually come.  The auteur is known for taking long times between films (sometimes decades even), but after two films (The Tree of Life and last year's To the Wonder) in just three years, the old boy's pace is a-quickenin'.  Among the actors involved in these simultaneous films, are Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchet, Benicio del Toro, and Michael Fassbender, several of them starring in two of the three.  Who the hell knows what's going to become of this whole conglomerate, but one of them (most likely Knight of Cups) is bound to come out by year's end.  Right?

2. Nymphomaniac - This film was on my list last year as well (and in the same spot, if I'm not mistaken) but it took a bit longer to get here than we had all anticipated.  Now, in a two-part release schedule set for March and April (a la Soderbergh's Che, not Tarantino's Kill Bill), this ever so-controversial film from that ever so-controversial Lars von Trier, in all its penetration-happy glory, and featuring Charlotte Gainsbourgh, Uma Thurman, Christian Slater, Jamie Bell, Stacy Martin, Connie Nielson, Willem Dafoe, Udo Kier, Stellen Skarsgard, and mister breaking news Shia LaBeouf, is finally seeing the light of the American cinema.  I wonder how many people will be offended by this one?  I am almost anticipating the inevitably ridiculous puritan backlash more than the film(s) itself.

1. Inherent Vice - Paul Thomas Anderson is the best filmmaker working today.  There, I said it!  So, I suppose after such a proclamation, it should come as no surprise that his seventh film makes it to the top of the heap on my list.  The man who made the masterpieces Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, and The Master, now takes on the 2009 Thomas Pynchon crime novel.  Expected to be somewhere between The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye, and starring Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin, Jena Malone, Martin Short (yeah, Martin Short), Maya Rudolph, Owen Wilson, and Benicio del Toro, this is my most anticipated film of 2014.

Looking even further ahead: There are a few films that will most likely not make the scene until early 2015 sometime.  Though any of these could end up getting a last hour release in time for Oscar consideration, they are more likely candidates for next year's list, but since there is the possibility (albeit it unlikely), and these are films that would definitely make the list if they had sure release dates, I should include them somewhere in here - so here they are.

Carol - Todd Haynes, the man who gave us such brilliant works as Safe, Far From Heaven, I'm Not There, and the HBO mini-series version of Mildred Pierce, as well as the marvelous must-see short film, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (seriously, if you can find this creature, you must watch it!), is back again, once again, like Far From Heaven, set in the not-so-halcyon days of the 1950's, this time with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara heading the cast.  How could we not want to see such a film?  This could make its way into theatres by December (it is the most likely of these three to do so), but probably a Spring 2015 release is more likely, unless they decide to hold the film for an Oscar run next year.

Cyber - This is Michael Man doing what Michael Mann has always done best, the classic American crime film.  This one stars Chris ' The God of Thunder' Hemsworth.  They haven't actually started filming yet (hence the probable 2015 release date) but I'm already all a-twitter over the idea of a new Michael Mann film coming our way after a four+ year absence from the big screen.

Macbeth - Michael Fassbender as Macbeth, and Marion Cotillard as his hand-wringing Lady.  How can this not be one of my most anticipated films?  But alas, poor Macbeth (now I'm just mixing my Shakespeare metaphors), or should I say, poor us, because we will most likely have to wait until next year to finally see this film, unless filming goes quickly (they have not started yet) and we get a rush job for Oscar season.  Though, I am more than willing to wait some extra time just to not have a rush job on this film.

And let us not forget these intriguing but not quite list worthy anticipations (in no particular order): the sci-fi Transcendence w/ Johnny Depp, Aussie drama The Rover, Anton Corbijn's A Most Wanted Man, Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher, Mia Hanson-Love's EdenDawn of the Planet of the Apes, Cronenberg's Map to the Stars, The Wachowski's Jupiter Ascending, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Muppets Most Wanted, The Lego Movie, Ridley Scott's ExodusInto the WoodsLow Down with Elle Fanning, the latest version of Madame Bovary, starring Mia Wasikowska, and about two or three dozen more.

That's it kids.  See ya 'round the web.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Film Review: Joel & Ethan Coen's Inside Llewyn Davis

Set inside their moody, 'grey skies are never going to clear up' world, the brothers' Coen have created yet another slice of their unique brand of morose emotionally-macabre moviemaking.  And this critic would have it no other way.  Set in the early 1960's, mostly in Greenwich Village (with a sidetrip to Chicago and back), Inside Llewyn Davis is the story of a down-on-his-luck folk singer and guitarist, one of Ginsberg's angelheaded hipsters, thinking himself one of the best minds of his generation (a thing he may or may not be - we never find out), and several (typical?) days in his down-and-out life.  With the Coens at the helm, don't expect to see any personal growth on the character's part, nor any sunny rays peeking out from behind the gloom and doom of the film's atmosphere, in order to let our not-so-intrepid hero find his way out of the dark days of his life.  No siree, this is not what one should expect from a Coen Brothers film, and once again, this critic would have it no other way.

Now I am not saying there is not life inside the Coens' insular cinematic world, but that life is ofttimes ridiculed by whatever natural or unnatural forces may be crushing down on our protagonist.  Be it the law (Raising Arizona and Fargo), the corporate world (Hudsucker Proxy), the mob (Miller's Crossing), feral criminality (No Country for Old Men), possible insanity (Barton Fink), or perhaps even God himself (A Serious Man), a Coen Brothers' protag is never safe from what could befall and very possibly destroy them.  In their latest film, the duo's sixteenth feature, Oscar Isaac portrays a man who is not necessarily falling apart so much as a man who has never been together.  Like most artists in our society, Llewyn Davis has a dangerous disconnect with the norms of society, and thus has an outsider feel no matter where he goes, even with his fellow artists, with whom he presumably has something in common - and yes, as a lifelong writer and outsider myself, I too can empathize and thus sympathize with Llewyn's feelings of disdain and disgruntlement.  Llewyn is a sad case, but not a terminal case.  He is trapped inside a world he doesn't understand, looking for a way out.  Looking for a way out into the world that he feels he should be part of.  A world where his desires are not looked upon as lesser, but a world where he, as an artist, is respected, perhaps even adored.

And then there's the music.  As melancholy in mood as the film itself, or as Llewyn himself, the array of old folk tunes, sung on film by Isaac, as well as costars Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, and Adam Driver, all arranged by the ever-capable T Bone Burnett give the film a sense of realness.  We aren't just watching a film set in 1961, we seem to be right there as the beat/folk Village scene is about to explode (you'll see a hint of the coming explosion as a certain someone takes the stage near film's end).  The one song actually written especially for the film (co-written by Burnett, Timberlake, and the Coens), the comedic bon mot, Please Mr. Kennedy (recently egregiously snubbed by the Oscars), is a shiny highlight in a film full of sad, seemingly endlessly sad, characters.  Now I am sure that those who won't even go near a sad movie (for some reason, everything must be positive for these silly people), will not like this film, even one bit, but for those who want tragic, yet sadly realistic, storytelling, done with a bravura central performance (and wait til ya get a load of John Goodman!), then Inside Llewyn Davis is the film for them/you/us.  Oh yeah, and there's a cat (or two or three) as well.

This review can also be read over at my main site, All Things Kevyn.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Oscar Nomination Talk..and an Oscar Poll to Boot!!

Well kids, it's time to see just who got nominated for that oh so coveted little golden guy, apocryphally named after Bette Davis' uncle Oscar, as well as find out just how well (or how poorly, but we all know this isn't the case) in my annual predictions.  To get that last little piece of information out of the way (so we can enjoy the rest of our date), I went 39 for 44 in my predictions, or for the more statistically-minded amongst my readers, an 89% accuracy rate.  Not bad, but considering how predictably boring the nominations were (again) this year, I should have probably broken 90% quite easily.  Anyway, I digress.  So, without further ado, let's get a-lookin'.

First off, let's take a look at Best Picture.  As the rules state (and as this guy hates) there can be anywhere from five to ten nominees (and there should be five, as tradition - mostly - dictates), and this year, for the third year in a row, we have ended up with nine.  Oh, and by the way, these are the exact nine that I predicted yesterday.  So take that!  They are: American Hustle, 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, Nebraska, Captain Phillips, The Wolf of Wall Street, Philomena, Dallas Buyers Club, and Her.  So, as they say, no real surprises here - not that there were any real surprises anywhere today.  In Best Director, I went 4 for 5, having picked Paul Greengrass for Captain Phillips instead of nominee Alex Payne for Nebraska. The other four, Alfonso Cuaron, David O. Russell, Steve McQueen, and Marty Scorsese were all pretty much shoo-ins, and therefore easy pickin's in my predictin's.  As for who might win on March 2nd?  Pic is up between Slave and Hustle I do believe, with the slight edge going to the more dramatic Slave, and Cuaron is surely the frontrunner for the directing Oscar (the first Mexican to win?).  Hustle and Gravity are the big winners, each garnering ten nominations, with 12 Years a Slave coming in with nine.  Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa also received an Oscar nomination this morning, but more on that later.  Onto the acting categories.

I went 17 for 20 in the acting slots, acing Supporting Actor, and missing just one each in the other three categories.  The big news here though (at least I think it is) is the fact that American Hustle pulled off a nomination in each of the four acting categories.  Amy Adams and Christian Bale in the leads (Bale was my one misstep in Best Actor) and Cooper and J-Law in Supportings.  This is just the fifteenth time this feat has been accomplished in Oscar history.  The last time such a thing happened?  Just last year, with Silver Linings Playbook.  What?  Huh?  That was a David O. Russell film too.   Howzabout that?  The last time before that was Reds in 1981.  As for surprises...well, there really weren't any.  No Redford (which I predicted).  No Hanks (which I did not).  No Emma Thompson (probably the closest thing to a surprise).  But we did get Sally Hawkins (again, I predicted that one), so that's a good thing.  As for my of-the-top predictions for the eventual winners, I would say (at this time only - this may change before Oscar night) McConaughey, Blanchett (though look out for Amy Adams in a surprise win), Jared Leto, and Lupita Nyong'o (unless they are willing to give J-Law two in a row).   Snubs?  Not that they ever stood even the remotest of chances, I would have loved to have seen Julie Delpy, Mia Wasikowska, or Greta Gerwig in Best Actress (maybe Rooney Mara too), Oscar Isaac, Simon Pegg, or Michael Shannon in Best Actor, Nicole Kidman, Kristen Scott Thomas, or Tao Zhao in Supporting Actress, and Matthew Goode, John Goodman, and (of course) James Franco(!!!) in Supporting Actor - but that's just me.

The screenplay nods were just as boring and predictable as everything else, as I missed just one (predicting the shamefully robbed Inside Llewyn Davis instead of the nominated Dallas Buyers Club for Original Screenplay), so there's really nothing to talk about there.   As I said earlier, I had a success rate of 89% this year, up from my pathetic 77% turnout last year, so all is good.  As for the rest of the nominees?  Well, there are some mentionables, so let's mention 'em.  A snub for Sarah Polley and her doc, Stories We Tell, nominations for Arcade Fire (Score), and Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Song), no nod for Blue is the Warmest Color, but the wonderful Great Beauty is up (and will win!) for Foreign Language Film, Miyazaki gets an Animated Feature nod for what he has called his final film (but can he beat Disney's Frozen?), Wong Kar-wai's The Grandmaster is up for two Oscars (Cinematography and Costumes), and yes, the aforementioned Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa is nominated for Best Make-up & Hair.  So there!  A pretty unremarkable year in surprises here, but that seems to be par for the course in these recent Oscar times.  I'll be back on March 1st with my final predictions, but in the meantime, check out the Oscar poll I'm a-running 'round these parts (you will find it near the top of the right hand sidebar).  That's it for now.  See ya 'round the web.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Final Oscar Nomination Predictions

Welly well well, here we are on another Oscar nominations eve, so, without further ado (other than the poster image of 12 Years a Slave, that is), here are my final, and as the post's title says, set-in-stone, Oscar nomination predictions.  Have at 'em.  Oh, and I have listed them in order of probability within each category.

Best Picture
1. 12 Years a Slave
2. American Hustle
3. Gravity
4. Captain Phillips
5. The Wolf of Wall Street
6. Nebraska
7. Dallas Buyers Club
8. Her
9. Philomena
10. Saving Mr. Banks

Wild Cards: Blue Jasmine and/or Inside Llewyn Davis (Yeah, right - but I guy can dream)

The first three here are pretty much locks, and the next three are pretty darn as close to locks as they can be.  Now since we don't know just how many nominees we will see in this category, as the rules claim anywhere between five and ten (a rule with which this critic is not all too fond), who knows what tomorrow morning will bring.  My guess though, is eight, but if it does go to ten, there ya have it.  Other (slim) possibilities are Before Midnight, Fruitvale Station, The Butler, and even Blue is the Warmest Color, if hell freezes over.

Best Director
1. Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity
2. Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave
3. David O. Russell for American Hustle
4. Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street
5. Paul Greengrass for Captain Phillips

Possible Spoilers: Alexander Payne for Nebraska and/or Spike Jonze for Her

Wild Cards: The Coen Brothers for Inside Llewyn Davis

The first three are locks here, with Cuaron the frontrunner to win then gold (another split between director and picture is likely again this year).  Scorsese is likely but not a sure thing.  Greengrass is a bit on the wobbly side here, with either Payne or Jonze (or maybe even both!) on the ready to (semi)surprise tomorrow morn.  A real surprise (and a welcome one) would be a nod for the Coens.  Who knows.

Best Actor
1. Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club 
2. Chiwetel Ojiofor in 12 Years a Slave
3. Bruce Dern in Nebraska
4. Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street
5. Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips

Possible Spoilers: Robert Redford in All is Lost and/or Joaquin Phoenix in Her

Wild Card: Christian Bale in American Hustle or Forrest Whitaker in The Butler

Wow, just think, a guy who was the frontrunner to win the statue a month or so ago, may now, not even get nominated.  The top three are locks, with McConaughey in the hot seat to win in March, but the next two are a bit shaky.  Redford was the frontrunner, but with Leo buzzing up a storm, it seems unlikely he'll be left out, and Redford is the most likely culprit to end up not having his name announced tomorrow.  Of course, I could be wrong - imagine that.  Perhaps the Leo buzz came to late to affect the outcome, and Redford's once vaulted slot is safe after all. Phoenix could just as easily slip in there as well, but less likely.

Best Actress
1. Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine
2. Amy Adams in American Hustle
3. Sandra Bullock in Gravity
4. Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks
5. Judi Dench in Philomena

Possible Spoiler: Meryl Streep in August: Osage County

Wild Card: Adele Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Color

What!!?  Streep not getting nominated!?  What am I, a fool!?  Yeah, well maybe I am, but with a sudden surge in buzz for Amy Adams, someone had to get knocked off the list, and La Streep is the injured party.  Otherwise, this seems a pretty tight race.

Best Supporting Actor
1. Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club
2. Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave
3. Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips
4. Bradley Cooper in American Hustle
5. Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street

Possible Spoilers: Daniel Bruhl in Rush and/or Tom Hanks in Saving Mr. Banks.

Wild Card: James Gandolfini in Enough Said

Again, the top three are sure-fire locks.  Numbers four and five, a bit more on the shaky side of things.  For a while, it looked as if Mr. Hanks might be a double nominee this year, but the buzz on Saving Mr. Banks, save for the lead performance of Miss Thompson, has pretty much taken the proverbial long walk off of a short pier.  That, along with the surge of both Hill and Cooper in this race, gives us our top five, but don't be too surprised if Herr Bruhl sneaks in there somewhere.  And let's not forget Oscar's reverence for the dead, and the, albeit slim, possibility of the late Mr. Gandolfini popping up as well.

Supporting Actress
1. Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle
2. Lupita Nyong'o in 12 Years a Slave
3. June Squibb in Nebraska
4. Oprah Winfrey in Lee Daniels' The Butler
5. Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine

Possible Spoiler: Julia Roberts in August: Osage County

Wild Card: Octavia Spencer in Fruitvale Station

Again, the top three are locks.  After that, it's pretty much a free-for-all.  If Oprah is nominated, she may very well win, but it's still debatable if she will be nominated (and if she's not, then maybe we'll see back-to-back Oscars for J-Law).  As for the fifth spot, conventional wisdom goes to picking Julia Roberts, but if Streep is snubbed (as is my prediction above) then perhaps the whole film will be, leaving the spot open for one of my faves of the year, one Miss Sally Hawkins.  Then again, there tends to be a big surprise somewhere in the acting categories, and perhaps our wild card Spencer is just that surprise.

Best Original Screenplay
1. American Hustle
2. Inside Llewyn Davis
3. Nebraska
4. Her
5. Blue Jasmine

Best Adapted Screenplay
1. 12 Years a Slave
2. Captain Phillips
3. Philomena
4. Before Midnight
5. The Wolf of Wall Street

The screenplay nods seem pretty firm right about now, which is kind of unusual, so there is bound to be a surprise or two in here somewhere  Possibles surprises for Original are: Saving Mr. Banks, Lee Daniels' The Butler, Frances Ha, Dallas Buyers ClubFruitvale Station.  Others for Adapted are: August: Osage County, Blue is the Warmest Color, and The Spectacular Now.  So there ya go. 

Well, that's about it for now.  I'll let the other categories go for now (though I'm sure the 3D spectacle, Gravity, will be up for most of the tech awards, just as Life of Pi did last year).  All-in-all, I think American Hustle, 12 Years a Slave, Captain Philips, and Gravity are the films destined to lead the nominations, and maybe The Wolf of Wall Street, if that pans out.  We'll see tomorrow morning, and I'll have a wrap-up of the nods, as well as my stats in the ole predicting game.  See ya 'round the web.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Film Review: Spike Jonze's Her

When I first saw Spike Jonze's feature debut, Being John Malkovich, over fourteen years ago (has it really been that long?), I was, as some are prone to say, blown away.  To this day, I still consider the film to one of the best movies of the 1990's.  With the director's second film, 2002's Adaptation, I was not blown away so much as heatedly intrigued.  However, with each of Jonze's two follow-up films, replacing my aforementioned blown away and/or heatedly intrigued feelings, my emotions have ranged from less than mildly amused (Where the Wild Things Are) to slightly more than mildly amused (the director's latest, Her). Now don't get me wrong, Jonze is a talented director, his visual nuances are actually quite spectacular in each and every film he has made (including most of his music video work as well), but the one thing the director had going for him in his first two films, and what is missing from his latest two, is the warped genius pen of Charlie Kaufman.  One of the most fascinating screenwriters working today (that genius pen is also responsible for Human Nature, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and the writer's directorial debut, the brilliantly subversive Synecdoche, New York) made Malkovich and Adaptation flow beyond even Jonze's visual dexterity, and that is sorely lacking in the sadly tepid Wild Things and the seemingly tired Her, both written by Jonze himself.  But maybe that's just me and my deep love for pretty much everything Charlie Kaufman touches.

Perhaps I am being a bit too harsh on Her. It is far from a bad film, and to be honest, I enjoyed it more than I enjoyed most Hollywood movies this year.  Maybe my 'more than mildly amused' should be upgraded to 'fun but not the funnest.'  Who knows?  The story is interesting and offbeat (which is usually my kinda thing) but it does tend to drag and sometimes repeat itself, as if it really didn't know how else to fill the void of the middle of a movie.  The storyline by the way, goes a little something like this: Her is the quirky tale of a lonely writer who falls in love with his computer's operating system (my favourite part of the story is how most people in this slightly futuristic landscape, don't even find such a thing strange or unusual) and how relationships are the same no matter who the partners may be.  Like I said, it is an interesting tale, but Jonze's lack of narrative interest and way of shallowly filling these gaps in interest (of course, as the director is wont to do, there are some rather hipstery shoe-gazing songs tossed in there to annoy anyone with even a modicum of musical taste), just makes this critic wonder even more what the film would have ended up being like if Kaufman were around to write the damn thing.

But again, perhaps I am being a bit to harsh on the old girl.  Every time I say I like the film alright, I go off on a tangent about how it could be better with Kaufman, and let's face it, many a film would probably be better with Kaufman at the writing desk, so we probably shouldn't keep thinking coulda woulda shoulda thoughts, and just say that Her is more than mildly amusing, and is indeed fun, though not the funnest.  After all, we do get yet another bravura performance, this time at the other end of the emotional spectrum than the actor's other recent work in The Master or his installationesque performance piece-cum-docudrama I'm Still Here, from the mighty Joaquin Phoenix.  And even with its drawbacks, Her is a charming and rather quaint little film.  It's quite cute, indeed.  Still though, one must wonder what Charlie Kaufman could have done with such a creative story idea.  Okay, okay, maybe I did like the film more than I let on, and yes, perhaps my desire to see what the all-powerful Mr. Kaufman would do with the material is not enough of a cinematic foible to toss away an otherwise fun (but not the funnest) film.  So there.

This review can also be read over at my main site, All Things Kevyn.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Film Review: Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing

Let me attempt to put a more US audience-tested face on this whole shebang.  Try to imagine the likes of Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, still being alive, and reenacting their crimes against humanity for a documentarian's camera, and for all to see.  Now imagine the terrorist and despot actually starring in these reenactments, as both victim and victimizer.  Now try to imagine a few elaborate musical numbers being thrown in, to ironically liven things up a bit.  If you can indeed imagine such a beast, then you too can imagine the alluring yet harrowing documentary, The Act of Killing.  The only difference here is that we are not in the caves of Afghanistan or the airways of September 11th, nor are we in the spider-holes  and war-ravaged streets of Bagdad. 

Here we find ourselves in the paramilitaristic land of modern day Indonesia.  Following the failed coup of 1965, gangsters like Anwar Congo, to whom the moniker of main antagonist-cum-protagonist can be applied here, were put in charge of government-sanctioned death squads.  These death squads of 1965-66 have evolved into a political party that has since run the country with the proverbial iron fist.  And these crimes (people being dragged from their homes, tortured, executed, homes burned to the ground in a firestorm of pseudo-righteousness) are still all too real, and now being relived by those who perpetrated them, all for the camera's roving, unceasing Kino-eye.  And I gotta tell ya, as disturbing as many of these war crimes are, it is really hard to not be riveted by a strange fascination for the things being explained and reenacted up on the screen.

The film opens with a chorus line of pink clad dancers slowly sliding their way out of the mouth of an enormous fish sculpture (as seen on the film's poster) and quickly moves from campesque farce to brutal reality.  The main brunt of the film follows the aforementioned Congo around as he, often swelling with pride as he wears the most Cheshire of grins, matter-of-factly tells of his exploits as state executioner - a position where he claims to have murdered over 1000 people, all in the name of the anti-communist Indonesian government.  Congo and the camera are visited by other fellow death squaders, as they are heralded and praised as great people of Indonesia.  The final act of the film, as we delve deeper into these repugnant crimes, and as Congo begins questioning what he has done in life, the film becomes more and more surreal and more and more bizarre in its uniquely stylized narrative.  This film really is a strange beast, unlike any film this critic has ever experienced. It is also one of those films one would be remiss not to say it is a certain must see.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Best of 2013

Hey everybody!  It's that time of the year again.  That time where we film critics (and others of a similar cinematic bent) dole out our annual best and worst of the year lists.  Well, that is just what I will be doing below (and over at my main site, All Things Kevyn).  But this ain't just some boring ole top ten list.  No sirree.  This will be my choices for the best that cinema had to offer this past year, from the best to the worst.  A top twenty or so offering (a top 21 to be exact), followed by some runners-up, followed by my choices for the best performances of the year, which then will be followed by my choices for the dregs of then past cinematic year.  But enough of this introductory nonsense.  Without further ado, I give you the cinematic year that was 2013, beginning with my choices for the best films of the year.  Oh yeah, and due to some scheduling conflicts, two films that would have likely made this list (and still might through the wonder of the retcon), Spike Jonze's Her and The Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis, have yet to be seen by your not-so-humble narrator, and therefore are not included below. Anyway, on with the show...

1. Stoker - This film, the first English-language offering from Korean enfant terribles, Park Chan-wook, came onto the screen quite early in the year, and ever since the March 21st screening I saw, the film has been the runaway winner for best of the year - no film was ever able to topple it from its high and mighty perch.  Loosely based on Hitchcock's 1943 classic thriller, Shadow of a Doubt, Park brings his unique, oft times batshitcrazy, style to Hollywood, and casts a pitch perfect Mia Wasikowska in the central role of lonely little girl lost-cum-potentially demented serial killer - all via a bubbling sexual cauldron of Lolita-esque desire.  A gorgeously harrowing near-masterpiece, indeed.

2. American Hustle - The only film that even came close to toppling Stoker from that top spot, came quite close to the year end deadline - as many big name Oscar potentials do.  Taking a riff on making a Martin Scorsese film ("the best damn Martin Scorsese film ever made by someone who is not Martin Scorsese"), David O. Russell has finally made the great film we all knew he had in him all along.  Granted, many thought his last film was that great work, but the obvious cliché of that film (really, how were so many fooled into thinkig it was anything better than typical Oscar-bait pabulum?), is wiped away completely with this new, great visceral work of art.  Bravo.

3. Spring Breakers - From its opening montage of a typical spring break setting that looks to be an auteuristic take on Girls Gone Wild, to its dangerously sexualized interior involving several actresses with usually (usually) squeaky clean images, all the way to its killer final scene that could have been lifted straight out of a Brian De Palma-fuelled wet dream, Harmony Korine's succulently filthy paean to the Godardian ideal of a girl and a gun, or in this case, several girls and lots of guns, may not be the film for everyone (what an understatement!) but that doesn't change the fact that this is indeed, cinema as it damn well should be.

4. Before Midnight - This acerbic love(esque) story is the culmination (unless Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke decide on making a fourth one down the road) of one of the smartest, most beautifully filmed trilogies around.  Beginning in 1995 with Before Sunrise, and continuing in 2004 with Before Sunset (my personal favourite of the bunch), the aforementioned director, Richard Linklater, and his stars and co-screenwriters, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, have given us a deft comedy-cum-potential tragedy in this continuing tale of the life and love of Celine and Jesse.  Simple, yet deceptively perceptive, this film (along with its predecessors), and its filmic couple, is just so so fun to watch.

5. Frances Ha - Noah Baumbach, the Brooklyn-born writer/director of such arthouse hits as Margot at the Wedding and The Squid and the Whale, is at it again.  This time around he is joined by muse/girlfriend Greta Gerwig as co-screenwriter and star - in fact Gerwig pretty much created the character, foibles and faults included, from the so-called ground up.  The film, done in crisp black and white and shot on a minimal budget in and around Brooklyn, is the story of a twentysomething New York dancer, all done in the most post-new wavy kinda manner one can imagine.  So much so that one can actually see, hear, and smell the ghosts of Francois Truffaut wandering around in the background somewhere.

6. Blue Jasmine - Once upon a time, a Woody Allen film meant something special.  Lately, the guy can be pretty hit and miss.  Luckily, his latest film, though panned by many this year, is one of those aforementioned hits.  But no matter how well written it is (and it is), and no matter how great a performance is given by supporting player Sally Hawkins (and it is indeed, a great performance), and no matter how glad this critic is to see the Woodman back in such fine form (and yes, he is back baby), it is Cate Blanchett's stellar take on one of the most complex characters Allen has ever drawn, that steals this movie away from anything and everything else.

7. The World's End - Judging from the genre-spanning satirical films Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the cinematic combination of director Edgar Wright, and stars Simon Pegg (also co-writer with Wright) and Nick Frost, pretty much guarantees a witty and wry comedy, and with the release of The World's End, their collective take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and probably the most acerbic of the trio's loosely-based trilogy, that guarantee has become even stronger.

8. Upstream Color - Finally, the long-awaited second film from Shane Carruth, director of the 2004 ground-breaking indie sci-fi film Primer, and this mother is just as mind-fucking trippy as his first film.  Taking on the idea of identity and self-awareness, this film slowly builds to a bizarre climax, all the while giving momentary hints, though barely revealing the truth as to what exactly is happening on screen.

9. The Act of Killing - A documentary about gangster squads and para-military assassins, told in various manners, from reenactments to talk show appearances to elaborate musical numbers, and all done with not only the complete cooperation of these very same gangster squads and para-military assassins, but also actually reenacted by these very same men.  Imagine something akin to a Taliban reality show, and you have this bizarre and intense film.

10. To the Wonder - Sure, when compared to Terrence Malick's previous film, The Tree of Life (the one and only true masterpiece of this decade so far), this much smaller-in-scope work is sure to look minor in such a comparison, but still, a film that can be considered (and is by the director himself) a companion piece to The Tree of Life, a footnote even, then To the Wonder is a marvelous miniature work of art.

11. The Grandmaster - How good a filmmaker is Hong Kong master Wong Kar-wai?  Good enough that even my least favourite film of the director's oeuvre, makes it to number eleven on my best of 2013 list.  Yeah, that's right, The Grandmaster is probably the auteur's least interesting film, and it is still better than most films made today.  Of course by least interesting, I mean that only when compared to the rest of the guy's filmography.  Standing on its own, The Grandmaster is a gorgeous and quite succulent work of art.

12. Blue is the Warmest Color - A three hour French lesbian drama, complete with a ten minute or so unsimulated sex scene smack dab in the middle, probably is not the most mainstream friendly movie out this year (many audiences, including those at official Academy Award screenings, either scoffed or even laughed during said sex scene), but once the gratuity is overlooked, this graphic novel adaptation ends up being a heart-wrenching and tragic love story.

13. Only God Forgives - Cool and strangely calming, this otherwise visceral work from Nicolas Winding Refn (the man who gave us both Bronson and Drive) is a psychologically brutal and visually haunting look at the underbelly of Thai society and familial dysfunction, all done with three bravura performances from Winding Refn muse Ryan Gosling, and Kristen Scott Thomas, and Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm.

14. Fruitvale Station - More often than not, when we are given a film about tragic real life events, the end result is either pandering schlock or trite mishandling.  In the case of the debut film from Ryan Coogler, the end result is a riveting look at tragic real life events, that almost never blinks away from its harrowing storyline.  A (would be) star-making performance from Michael B. Jordan helps out a lot too.

15. The Bling Ring - Sofia Coppola has made a directorial career out of portraying lost little girls in her films, be they suicidal sisters or legendary teen queens, and she keeps that going here, as she tells the story of a TMZ-addled youth culture, that, no longer able to differentiate between reality and reality TV, lives by their own (im)morality code.  A chilling film indeed.

16. The Lone Ranger - Yeah, that's right bitches!  This movie, an epic failure due more to its ridiculous (and completely excessive) epic budget than any sort of box office dilemma, can be found on more than quite a few worst of 2013 lists, but I say bah to them.  Bah indeed.  Sure, this may not be a great work of cinema that should be held high in the annals of film history, but it is a rather spectacular grand guignol of Hollywood spectacle, indeed.  Fun fun fun!

17. A Touch of Sin - This film, the latest from Chinese master of melancholy,  Jia Zhangke, slowly builds its intertwining plot threads into an eventual boiling pot of despair and destruction.  Allowing his camera, and some pretty damn spectacular work from his actors, to explain the otherwise unexplained, Jia's film resonates like an unending drum.  Thump, thump, thump, thump...

18. Side Effects - If we are to believe director Steven Soderbergh, this is to be the enigmatic auteur's final theatrical release.  If so, it's a damn fine way to go out.  If it isn't (and let's face it, it probably isn't), then it's yet another unique experiment in what is probably the strangest oeuvre of any director working today.  In other words, Side Effects is yet another reason why everyone should be in love with the films of Steven Soderbergh - and for that matter, the equally enigmatic acting of the often overlooked Miss. Rooney Mara.

19. Ain't Them Bodies Saints - My wife says that Casey Affleck may very well be the best actor of his generation, and, aside from Christian Bale and Affleck's own bro-in-law, Joaquin Phoenix, I am prone to agree, especially after seeing yet another seering performance from the guy in this little seen gem of a film.  As for the film itself, think Arthur Penn meets early Nicholas Ray, with a kinda stormy Terrence Malick feel.

20. Gravity - I have always been, and will always be a most loud proponent of, whenever possible, watching a film on the big screen, where it should be seen.  This is especially the case with Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity.  In fact, I would even go so far as to say the only proper way to watch Gravity is on the big screen in 3D.  That's right, this noted 3D-hater is proposing one see a film in 3D.  So be it.  Gravity is a stunning work of art that will probably end up being just average when it makes its way to smaller screens at home.  But up on that big silver screen?  Just gorgeous.

21. Much Ado About Nothing - A black & white Shakespearean adaptation, set in modern times and using the Bard's original Early-Modern English dialogue, and directed by the man responsible for the third top-grossing film of all-time, Joss Whedon's foray into classic lit may not have been the runaway box office success that The Avengers was in 2012, but it is certainly good enough to round out my best of 2013 list.

Some worthy runners-up (in no particular order): Warm Bodies (Jonathan Levine); Trance (Danny Boyle); The Last Stand (Kim Jee-woon); Mud (Jeff Nichols); Star Trek Into Darkness (J.J. Abrams); The Angel's Share (Ken Loach); Dallas Buyer's Club (Jean-Marc Vallee); Pacific Rim (Guillermo del Toro); Wrong (Quentin Dupieux); Lore (Cate Shorland); Computer Chess (Andrew Bujalski); The Iceman (Ariel Vromen); You're Next (Adam Wingard); Enough Said (Nicole Holofcener); Passion (Brian De Palma).

Best Female Lead Performances of the Year:
Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine
Mia Wasikowska in Stoker
Adele Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Color
Julie Delpy in Before Midnight
Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha
Rooney Mara in Side Effects & Ain't Them Bodies Saints

Best Male Lead Performances of the Year:
Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club
Christian Bale in American Hustle
Simon Pegg in The World's End
Michael Shannon in The Iceman
Casey Affleck in Ain't Them Bodies Saints
Ethan Hawke in Before Midnight

Best Female Supporting Performances of the Year:
Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine
Nicole Kidman in Stoker
Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle
Kristen Scott Thomas in Only God Forgives
Tao Zhao in A Touch of Sin
Lea Seydoux in Blue is the Warmest Color

Best Male Supporting Performances of the Year:
James Franco in Spring Breakers
Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club
Matthew Goode in Stoker
James Gandolfini in Enough Said
Vithaya Pansringarm in Only God Forgives
Nathan Fillion in Much Ado About Nothing

And then, ever so briefly, come the worst of the year...
1. 47 Ronin
2. After Earth
3. A Good Day to Die Hard
4. The Counselor
5. Machete Kills
6. Oz the Great and Powerful
7. A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III
8. Elysium
9. Bullet to the Head
10. Gangster Squad

One final note: Though it is not quite bad enough of a film to make the above Worst of the Year list, plus I would've broken my heart to have to include this filmmaker, one of my all-time favourites, on any sort of worst list, but nonetheless, the biggest 2013 cinematic disappointment for this critic has to be Martin Scorsese's surprisingly banal The Wolf of Wall Street.  Cool poster though.

Well, that's it kids.  See ya 'round the web.