2013 – Best of the Best, Worst of the Worst, Grand Totals

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My my my, how time flies!  It’s hard to believe I’m just finished up my second year of reviewing movies for this blog.  I think I’ll look back on this year as the truly terrible twos as I found it difficult to carve out time in my schedule to write as many reviews as I wanted and didn’t tackle as many older reviews as I planned.  Thanks to some creative shuffling all of that will change in 2014 so you can look forward to 365 days of consistent reviews and information on upcoming releases. 

But hey…wait a second…we still need to wrap up 2013, right?  Below I’ve compiled my list of the best and worst of 2013.  At first I was going to do a Top 10 for both because I absolutely had candidates to fill all the slots, but then I decided to stick with five each to truly highlight the best of the best and worst of the worst.

As always, I’ve appreciated your feedback, your patronage, and your general presence in my blog. Even if you read this everyday but have never commented or made contact I can still tell you’ve been here and that means a lot.  My readership and subscriptions continue to increase every month and it’s all thanks to your word of mouth, likes, and shares.  If you haven’t already, make sure to follow this blog, follow me on Twitter, and like my new Facebook page so you can help me continue spreading the news about The MN Movie Man.

Best Wishes to you and yours for a most Happy New Year!

~Joe (The MN Movie Man)

 

Best of

5. Gravity I’m a total sucker for films set in space so the concept of Gravity had me hooked from the start and I tracked each step of its journey from casting to early buzz to the eventual release of one of the best made films, well, ever when you look at it from a cinematic standpoint.  Director Alfonso Cuarón fashioned a breathtaking look at both the solemnity of outer space and the strength of inner human emotion in a taut 90 minutes that delivers astounding technical prowess and dynamite performances from stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.  Bullock especially flexes impressive acting muscles here, reminding us again that she’s more than a romantic comedy sweetheart and silencing all the naysayers jawing that her Oscar for The Blind Side wasn’t deserved. 

4. Stoker – This film came and went pretty quickly but it’s still very much on my mind all these months later.  If you missed this dark family drama in theaters do yourself a favor and seek it out pronto if you’re in the mood for a black as night tale with no real heroes and several sly twists that keep you off balance.  The first US film from Korean director Chan-wook Park was sleek and sophisticated with bursts of violence that delivered a wicked jolt…like Alfred Hitchcock meets David Lynch.  Nicole Kidman (Far and Away) was especially good in this one as jealous widow living in a creepy mansion with her troubled teenage daughter.  When a mysterious relative appears soon after her husband dies under shady circumstances, the bodies start to pile up and no one is quite safe from vengeance.

3. Prisoners – About halfway through Prisoners I realized just how starved I’d been for an edge of your seat crime drama.  This is an A-List film from top to bottom with a starry cast of Oscar nominees doing impressive work with very heavy material.  Special mention must be made to cinematographer Roger Deakins (Skyfall) who finds terrifying ways to frame the action and star Jake Gyllenhaal (End of Watch – a top film of mine for 2012) who brings a gritty sophistication to a cop tracking the disappearance of two little girls.  Though a long affair, Prisoners earns/deserves every minute of your attention as it makes its way through a mystery that gets deeper and more horrifying as it goes on.

2. Her – Though it hasn’t been released in all markets yet, trust me when I say that Her is one of the best and most original romantic films you’re likely to see.  I was originally unsure of how much I’d like this one, not being a huge fan of Joaquin Phoenix (The Master, Parenthood) and finding director Spike Jonze’s work to be admirable but generally over praised.  Add to that a concept (man falls in love with a computer operating system) and you have a film that on paper probably shouldn’t work.  But work it does and fairly brilliantly under the collaboration of Jonze, Phoenix, and the voice of Scarlett Johansson (Don Jon).  Without ever being in the same room (or even seeing one frame of Johansson) the two actors form a believable romance involving two personalities that find each other and connect in a most special way.  And say what you will about American Hustle but Amy Adams does her best work of the year here as a friend of Phoenix that has her own journey and observations on life.  An appealing and (more importantly) different film that winds up being just what the 2013 doctor ordered.

1. The Way Way Back – I caught this one before 2013 was half over and I knew right away that the film would wind up pretty high on my best of the year list.  Reflecting back on 2013 I can’t say that I saw a film that moved me more than this true treasure of a film.  Following an awkward teen during a summer vacation with his mom and her new boyfriend, our young hero finds his voice that had been held at bay by adults that don’t understand him.  When he forms a bond with a carefree worker at a local waterpark, he discovers his own worth and a transformation occurs that we can only see a small part of because it happens from within.  Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, the Oscar winning screenwriters of The Descendants, make their directorial debut with an even hand that allows for equal parts laughs and tears.  Sam Rockwell (Iron Man 2) deserves an Oscar nomination for his performance as a Peter Pan-ish guy that finds himself the mentor to a boy that just needs a friend and someone to listen to him.  Steve Carrell (Despicable Me 2) gets to show his non-comedic side to stellar results and there’s rich supporting work from Allison Janney and especially Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding).  Rash and Faxon steer clear of the pitfalls of most of these types of coming-of-age films by not heaping new problems onto our lead character but dealing with the baggage he came in with.  I saw the film three times in theaters and told everyone I knew about it and I’ve yet to meet someone that hasn’t loved it as much as I did.  Winners don’t come in a better package than The Way Way Back and though it doesn’t look like the film is getting the type of end of the year awards it deserves, this gets my vote for Best Picture of the year.

Honorable Mentions: The Conjuring, Nebraska, Saving Mr. Banks, 12 Years a Slave, 20 Feet From Stardom, About Time, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Hunt,

Worst of

5. The Heat – I remember the first preview I saw for The Heat and was stunned that a purported comedy from Bridesmaids director Paul Feig and starring Melissa McCarthy had exactly zero laughs in it.  That’s when I started to get worried that this rushed into production film that paired McCarthy with Sandra Bullock would be a comedy in name only and I’d be stuck for two hours of ham fisted attempts to pummel me into laughter submission. Turns out my gut was right because The Heat was a debacle to watch and a pain in the ass to sit through.  As a fan of Feig, McCarthy (who was better in the worse reviewed Identity Thief), and Bullock I wanted this film to be one hundred times funnier and twenty minutes shorter.  The supporting players are embarrassing and the wasted potential of the movie is one of the honest tragedies of 2013.

4. Side Effects – Though I sorta liked what Steven Soderbergh did with Haywire in 2012 I put his other effort from last year, Magic Mike, on my worst of the year wrap-up and sadly 2013 finds another Soderbergh film earning a spot on the naughty list.  Widely rumored to be Soderbergh’s last film as a director, Side Effects sends the Oscar winning director out with a whimper thanks to a ripped from Law & Order: SVU plotline and a lack of logical construction that left cast members like Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Jude Law (Hugo), Channing Tatum (21 Jump Street), and Catherine Zeta-Jones (Red 2) out in the cold.  The true side effect from the film is ambivalence to Soderbergh’s future efforts.

3. Now You See Me – I’ve always had a problem with films that deal with magicians because the suspension of disbelief isn’t the same as seeing someone perform a trick live.  So the deck was slightly stacked against Now You See Me, which doesn’t excuse the fact that the film is pretty lame and barely eeks by with its flimsy heist plot.  The worst thing about the film is that it winds up cheating the audience and pretty blatantly so with its revisionist plot twists that don’t make sense no matter how many rabbits the filmmakers try to pull out of their cinematic hat.  The ending for the film feels tacked on, an obvious product of reshoots due to poor reaction to early preview screenings.  Despite a nice roster of watchable actors like Marc Ruffalo (Marvel’s The Avengers), Michael Caine (Batman Begins), and Morgan Freeman (The Dark Knight) this was a summer bummer.  Now You See Me is one you shouldn’t.

2. Austenland – Listen, I love a “chick flick” as much as the next guy but there’s got to be a point where you say enough is enough and stop shelling out money to see what amounts to over produced television movies that somehow have found their way into your local cinema.  Austenland is a trip you’ll fire your travel agent (or movie critic) for recommending to you thanks to a general absurdity and bland leading performance from Keri Russell (Dark Skies) that turns what may have been a pleasant enough Lifetime movie to a Montezuma’s Revenge affair you’ll be thankful you don’t have to visit ever again.  Skip it, rent a hotel room and watch any other Jane Austen adaptation if you desire to be transported to another place in the company of characters from the Austen canon.

1. Girl Most Likely – It’s almost ironic that Kristen Wiig is starring in a movie called Girl Most Likely because her potential is fairly unlimited…but not if she keeps making garbage like this would-be comedy that winds up at the very top of my Worst of the Year list.  Unfunny, ungainly, and filled with heinously unappealing performances from the majority of the cast, I can’t imagine Wiig (Friends with Kids) is very proud of this one nor should she be.  Her sad sack playwright is the worst kind of anti-hero…the one the film wants you to root for but who has their head so far up their ass you simply cannot get behind them.  Wiig does what she can with the material but gives up about fifteen minutes in, which is more than I can say for Darren Criss, Matt Dillon and Annette Bening, all ghastly bad in their supporting roles that are less supporting and more sabotaging.  When the film changes tone for the ninth time near the conclusion you’ll be numb in both the mind and butt.  Painful to sit through, this is one turkey viewers should earn a medal for sitting through.

(Dis)Honorable Mentions: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Trance, The Hangover Part III, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Don Jon, This Is the End, Olympus Has Fallen, Thanks for Sharing

Special mentions

Most Misunderstood

Oblivion – Seems like Tom Cruise just can’t catch a break.  Though Oblivion fared better at the box office than his 2012 misses Rock of Ages (which deserved to tank) and Jack Reacher (which didn’t) there seemed to be this lingering animosity to Cruise that people (aka critics) just can’t get over.  That’s too bad because Oblivion was an exciting sci-fi film with excellent visuals, a powerful score, and strong performances (especially Andrea Riseborough, Disconnect) that kept me hooked.  Some fuddy duddy people aped on the Twilight Zone-y plot but they probably should have checked their logic sheets at the door because in sci-fi all rules are off.  Cruise has another futuristic film coming out way in 2014 and we’ll see if Edge of Tomorrow gets shirked in the same way Oblivion did.

Honorable Mention: Beautiful Creatures

Joe’s Humble Pie Award of 2014

The CallIf you had asked me my thoughts on The Call based simply on the trailer I would have told you that Halle Berry’s losing streak was going to continue.  So it was with a special kind of eating my words type of glee that I was happy to report the film was much better than its trailer would suggest.  The movie had thrills and chills and even if the twists felt a bit stale it didn’t matter much because the action moves like a locomotive.  Berry (Cloud Atlas) has struggled with headlining a film but the decent box office of The Call shows that she may be finding her footing in choosing her projects.  Definitely worth a look for fans of tightly wound thrillers. 

Honorable Mention: We’re The Millers

Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen But Should:

Indian Summer

The Changeling

Smooth Talk

Ghost Light

The Grandmaster (Yi dai zong shi)

The Spectacular Now

Blackfish

The East

Kon-Tiki

The Silence (Das letzte Schweigen)

Click HERE for a full listing of films seen in 2013

Total Movies Seen in the Theater: 138

Total Movies Seen at Home: 225

Grand Total for 2013 (not counting films seen multiple times): 363

Where I Saw the Most MoviesShowplace ICON (51!)

Movie Review ~ The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A day-dreamer escapes his anonymous life by disappearing into a world of fantasies filled with heroism, romance and action. When his job along with that of his co-worker are threatened, he takes action in the real world embarking on a global journey that turns into an adventure more extraordinary than anything he could have ever imagined.

Stars: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Sean Penn, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson

Director: Ben Stiller

Rated: PG

Running Length: 114 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

ReviewThe Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a movie you should see in the theaters on the biggest screen possible.  There…I wanted to get that out of the way first and foremost because I know there are some people that want to know if a movie is something they should make the effort to see in theaters or if it’s one they should wait on until it’s available for home consumption.  And The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is surely one that will be enjoyed in a movie theater where the picture is clear and the sound is booming.

That’s because director Ben Stiller, cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh (I Don’t Know How She Does It), and composer Theodore Shapiro (Hope Springs) have collaborated well to deliver a movie that looks, sounds, and more importantly FEELS good…and one that some posited would never be made.

Loosely adapted by Steve Conrad from the short story by James Thurber, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty doesn’t align much with the 1947 Danny Kaye film of the same name, jettisoning the earlier films central plot and replacing it with Stiller’s nebbish take on Mitty as a Life magazine photo editor journeying all over the world to track down a single frame of film that is to be used on the cover of the last edition of Life magazine.  Adding some wrinkles to this journey is Walter’s tendency to have grand flights of fancy where he says the right thing, wins the girl (Kristen Wiig, Girl Most Likely), and battles back the juvenile antics of his haranguing boss (Adam Scott, Friends with Kids).  These daydream-y moments pepper the first half of the film but gradually begin to be supplanted by Walter’s real life adventures, which far surpass anything he could have imagined – giving the whole film a dream-like element that had me wondering more than once if it was all happening in his mind (I won’t give you an answer to that question…you’ll have to decide for yourself).

The film has been pretty unfairly criticized for looking TOO good, more like a well produced Super Bowl commercial than an actual film and I can’t say I agree with that at all.  Yes, the cinematography is brilliantly uncluttered, deftly showcasing some beautiful foreign vistas in Greenland/Iceland and various mountain ranges but I believe Stiller and Dryburgh made it that way because we’re seeing the film through the eyes of a man who could never have imagined the sights he’s seeing.  Despite some egregious (even for a Hollywood studio standard) product placement, the film is a delight visually.

There’s also some poignant moments in Conrad’s script, whether it be Walter’s interaction with his matter of fact mother (a sweetly salty Shirley MacLaine) and Peter Pan-y sister (Kathryn Hahn, We’re The Millers) or his conversations with a rugged adventure photographer (Sean Penn) that may hold the key to his journey of discovery.  Wiig and Stiller’s romance is ever so slightly treacley (of course she’s a divorced single mom and of course there’s a scene where Stiller thinks she’s getting back together with her husband) but Wiig and Stiller are gifted enough to inject these moments with the right kind of gravitas that supersede any failings the script has to offer.

The movie is also genuinely funny, with Stiller’s interaction with a drunk helicopter pilot (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) being the only moment I laughed until I cried in recent memory.  The PG rated film is absolutely family friendly but I’d encourage parents to not be deceived that very small children will like this as much as, say, a 10 year old would.  This is not a Night at the Museum style of family film…but one that parents can take kids to and have a nice discussion about family and future.

Like The Way Way Back, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has a warm empathy emanating from its core that makes it a very worthy choice for the holiday season.  The film stopped and started for years while the right director and star were located and it’s nice to see that Stiller fit the bill for both roles.  There’s a lot of solid work on display here and I found Walter Mitty’s adventures to be right on par and possessing more meaning than anything that Iron Man could muster up.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

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Synopsis: An office worker who lives inside fantasy worlds where he gets to live an adventurous life while romancing his co-worker sets off a global journey to fix things when both of their jobs are threatened

Release Date:  December 25, 2013

Thoughts: An entire movie could be made just about the decades long struggle it has been to get this remake of the 1947 Danny Kaye film off the ground.  In 1994 the film was rumored to star Jim Carrey and over the years names like Will Ferrell, Owen Wilson, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Mike Myers floated by as would-be Walters…not to mention names like Stephen Spielberg (Lincoln), Ron Howard (Splash!), and Gore Verbinski (The Lone Ranger) being singled out as potential directors.  After all was said and done it was just one name that finally took on both acting and directing duties: Ben Stiller.  Now, it’s easy to forget that Stiller started out doing much more darker comedic material than the family fluff he’s been involved with lately and after watching the trailer I’m inclined to think that the wait was worth it.  Stiller could bring just the right amount of balance to this reworked update and here’s hoping he makes good use out of the other actors cast.  A holiday film that hopes to be a hit, I can see this one doing well if everything falls into place like I think it could.