Wednesday, July 3, 2013

From Park Chan-Wook's US Debut to Charlie Sheen as Charlie Swan: The Cinematic Best and Worst of the First Half of 2013

Here we are mid-way through the cinematic year of 2013 (actually one day past said mid-way point, but hey, yesterday was my birthday, and I had other things to do, so cut me some slack) and time for a round-up of what the year has brought us, cinematically speaking of course, from January first to my birthday yesterday.  In that time period, there have been 64 films released in the good ole USofA that I have seen with my own eyes.  This number is a touch lower than I had originally expected it to be by the mid-way point, but alas, what can ya do.  So, without further ado, here are those 64 films in relative preferential order - and order that could always change before said year is actually up.

The Best (so far) - There are just three films so far with which I would consider adorning my eventual Best of 2013 list.  They are, in chronological order, Park Chan-Wook's titularly-mentioned Hollywood debut, Stoker, Harmony Korine's latest and greatest work of decadent chutzpah, Spring Breakers, a film that probably has a lot more haters than it does champions, and Before Midnight, the third installment in Richard Linklater's "Before Series."  These are the three films that I have said wow too.  These are three films that, barring eight, nine or even ten or more spectacular films in the next six months, will be on that top ten list come January first.  I do not actually see any of these being in that top spot - hello, Wong Kar-Wai's long-awaited new film will hit US shores in August - but they should all be pretty high up there, Stoker may even end up in the number two or three spot when all is said and done, and the proverbial smoke clears.

Almost There - Films such as Terrence Malick's To the Wonder (the minor companion piece to The Tree of Life, you might say), Noah Baumbach's black and white Truffaut homage, Frances Ha (the show stolen by girlfriend, muse, writer, and star Greta Gerwig), Shane Carruth's massively misunderstood Upstream Color (his "yeah, finally" follow-up to 2004's Primer, another film not enough people "got"), Sofia Coppola's acerbic indictment of modern media culture, The Bling Ring (cool and callow as can be), and J.J. Abrams' Star Trek Into Darkness (the best mainstream director working today deserves some sort of inclusion here) might end up making the top ten when the times comes, but they are not sure bets by any means.  These films, all very good, though the directors have all done better, are more likely destined  for that extended part of my list, those films ranked from no. 11 through no. 20(ish), that I tag on every year just because I can never get too much of a good thing.  But the top ten, probably not, unless we have a less than expected second half of 2013 - and no, that isn't really a dig on any of these films.  One other film needing mentioned, Mekong Hotel, a 61 minute work from Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul, should probably squeeze in here somewhere as well.  It never really got any sort of proper release in the US, but why be such a stickler, it deserves to be here, so here it most certainly is.  Anyway, let us move on.

Runners-Up Material - Every year, after listing my best of the year, a top ten followed by ten or twelve more films that deserve recognition in bold print, I end up without another twenty or so films in that perennial list section known as the runners-up (or honourable mentions if that is more your thing).  This year, I see eleven films (so far) that could likely make such a list.  These films, in no particular order other than the order in which I remember them, are Ginger and Rosa (a film that owes everything to fourteen year old American Elle Fanning's remarkable performance as a seventeen year old Brit), Lore (and Aussie film set in the waning days of WWII Germany), Warm Bodies (a surprisingly enjoyable zombie romcom, a zomcom, if you will), The Last Stand (an equally surprisingly enjoyable Schwarzenegger vehicle that rightfully so, never takes itself too seriously), Wrong (Quentin Dupieux's bizarro world follow-up to that movie about the sentient spree-killing tire), Mud (McConaughey's at it again, but even he is outshone his fifteen year old co-star), Side Effects (Soderbergh lite is still better than many directors at their peak), The Iceman (the film may be typical, but Michael Shannon hands in the single best performance of the year so far, and that has got to count for something), Trance (a moody, mellow-ish, Danny Boyle film, imagine that?), The Angels' Share (Ken Loach playing at light-hearted, well, light-hearted by Ken Loach standards), and finally last year's official Foreign-Language Oscar entry from Norway, Kon-Tiki (nominated for said Oscar, this is old-fashioned storytelling the way it should be).  I can only assume that this list will double by year's end.

Okay, But Not List Worthy - Now we get to those films that I enjoyed in one way or another, and would get an eventual thumbs up if I were one of those who traded in a thumbed ratings system, but are not good enough to latch on to any sort of respectable list.  These films, again in no particular order, are as follows.  Mama (horror done without spectacle), Oblivion (yeah, this Tom Cruise vehicle ain't half bad), All Superheroes Must Die (a D.I.Y. Kick-Ass), Struck by Lightning (cute and catchy), Stand-Up Guys (the chemistry works here), Red Flag (Alex Karpovsky goes inward), War Witch (cliche'd but strongly acted), Yossi (Eytan Fox's sequel to Yossi and Jagger is tragically hopeful), John Dies at the End (in the feel good mood of early Sam Raimi), Supporting Characters (Mumblecore-ish but not too Mumblecore-ish), From Up on Poppy Hill (Miyazaki Junior follows in his papa's anime footsteps), Porfirio (Colombia's answer to the Dardennes), and the latest addition to this camp, World War Z (granted, I expected more, but what I got was rather fun).  But enough of the so-called good, let us move on to what comes next.

Straight-Up Average, Yo - These are those films that have as much going for them as they do against.  Those films that end up with the inevitable sideways thumbs.  In other words, straight-up average, yo!  With little to no fanfare, these films are: Man of Steel (not super), Epic (not epic), 42 (not legendary), Jack the Giant Slayer (not gigantic), The Croods (not crude), Admission (not admissive?), Broken City (not broken enough), No (not no enough), Renoir (not Renoiry enough?), Parker (not parked enough), What Maisie Knew (not knowing), Beautiful Creatures (not beautiful, and not creatury), and The Place Beyond the Pines (not beyond enough).  That last one hurt the most as it was one of the films I was most looking forward to this year.  Ah well, at least it, nor any of these were not actively bad, which brings us to our next category.

Actively Bad - These are those films that , though not the dregs of the year (those bad boys are coming up soon enough though), are to be considered actively bad, and therefore considered actively avoidable.  These ne're-do-wells include films I expected to be good, like Gangster Squad, films I had hoped would be good, like The Great Gatsby and Iron Man 3, and films I just knew were not going to be all that good, but was still secretly hopeful for, The Purge and Identity Thief.  This section also includes several small budget, V.O.D. throw-away doo-hickeys, such as Rubberneck, The Baytown Outlaws, Girls Against Boys, Crawlspace, and The Taste of Money.  And now, onto those aforementioned dregs of the cinematic year.

The Seven Deadly Sins - And finally, here we are at the proverbial bottom of the equally proverbial barrel.  Seven films that should be avoided at any and all costs.  Matching them up with those titular sins, these seven appropriately numbered films are, in no order whatsoever: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (Wrath), Evil Dead (Sloth), Bullet to the Head (Gluttony), Oz the Great and Powerful (envy), After Earth (pride), A Good Day to Die Hard (greed), and A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III (lust).  I will leave it up to you to decide why I assigned each sin to each film.  There were a bunch of other obvious candidates for this final category, but since I do not get any sort of paycheck for reviewing these films, there is really no reason to seek out all the possible dregs.

Anyway, that is it for the first half of the year.  For those of you are are a certain type of people, and have actually counted how many films I have listed (c'mon, really!?), and have come up with the answer of 63, one less than what was stated in my opening salvo, the answer to that query is easy.  The 64th film is actually the re-release of Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park in 3D.  But, since it is not really a new movie (the addition of 3D really does nothing for the movie itself), I have not counted it on this list.  If I did, it would be in the top category, as it is one of my favourite films of the 1990's.  But, I digress.  There are some films that have already opened in US theaters, but due to a lack of time recently, or a lack of being able to travel to NY and/or LA at the moment, these films are still as of yet, unseen.  Films such as Almodovar's I'm So Excited, Abbas Kiarostami's Like Someone in Love, and even the stoner end-of-the-world comedy, This is the End.  But I have rambled on enough.  Here's to the second half of 2013, and onto bigger and better things.  See ya in da funny papers.

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