Wednesday, January 22, 2014

CineCritical's Picks O' the Year - Sio's Picks

There's no denying that I've missed a lot of good movies this year, I've been lazy about getting out to see them.  That said, with so few good options I'm not surprised that Matt picked the films he did; they were some of the only options.

With that in mind I'm going to take a slightly different tact here as I've not seen much of what is being hailed as the best cinema has to offer this year and those I did, I pretty much unilaterally disliked.  Instead, my films will perhaps be a little less bombastic, but no less in need of viewing.  These are the top five films that surprised me this year, enough to recommend them to others.

5.  The Spectacular Now was both surprisingly touching and heartwarming well acted by Shailene Woodley.  Sutter (Miles Tenner) is a young man with a drinking problem whose path serendipitously crosses with Amy (Woodley) one night after a party when he wakes up on someone's front lawn.  As the relationship progresses it becomes clear that they're in over their heads.  Woodley has garnered increasing amounts of attention for her performances in smart and contemplative films like this one and The Descendants and Tenner's performance too is surprisingly on key (given the subject matter).  Ultimately the film is able to walk that tenuous line between been sweet and being realistic about young love, and I was very pleasantly surprised by the impact it had on me.

4.  I've said it again and again but this year has been the year of unexpected gems for me.  It's a Disaster (available on iTunes) is one such surprise and is definitely worth checking out, as this is the film that surprised me the most.  It popped up mid-June and stars Julia Styles, America Ferrera, David Cross and a host of other actors you've seen play bits parts in some things.  The premise is classic three act play, centered on a couples brunch being held by an old group of friends.  With awkward interactions and lots of secrets it soon becomes apparently that all is not how it used to be in this group of friends, and that's when disaster strikes.  With standout comedy moments and a (frankly) clever structure that works very well in this setting, It's a Disaster is worth seeking out.

3.  We know that I like Shakespeare.  It's been discussed in other postings and I could speak ad nauseam about into the interplay of language and the structure of the drama, but essentially the reason I like Shakespeare so much has to do with how others interpret him.  The work generally seems to inspire a sort of reverence and desire to re-package that means we often get to enjoy very different takes on the material.  Coriolanus, William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, and 10 Things I Hate About You are among my favourites in this 'genre'.  So when I heard that Joss Whedon was working on a retelling   Much Ado About Nothing, I got excited.  While I'm not a huge fan of the play,  I'm always open to a re-interpretation, and this was most certainly a re-interpretation.  Keeping all the original language and shooting in blank and white over twelve days in his family home, the film has the feeling of an intimate gathering, especially given that he's used exclusively actors with whom he'd previously worked (a habit for Whedon).  With solid performances from his leads (Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof) and standouts from people like Clark Gregg (Avengers, Marvel's S.H.I.E.L.D), this was a solid and often comedic telling of a lesser known work.  Definitely worth checking out, if only for the scene where Benedick (Denisof) contemplates falling in love while stretched out on Whedon's daughters bed, surrounded by stuffed animals.

2. The Square has already been nominated for an Oscar for Best Film and I won't lie, when it first happened I was thinking conspiracy.  With Netflix gaining a foothold in popular culture this year in a way it has not previously enjoyed, it felt like we might be headed towards "awards for the sake of progress" territory where the entertainment community tries to support a certain agenda.  I say this, of course, because I hadn't yet seen the film.  Last week, after the Oscar announcements, I sat down on Saturday morning and watched the film from start to finish.  At ninety-five minutes long, the film is comparatively short (we talked about the Whale of Wallstreet) but felt quite dense, packing a surprising amount of information into such a short running time.  Centering on a group of revolutionaries in Cairo, the film seeks to unpack the significance of Tahir square, the gathering place that has marked protests for nearly two years and watched the fall of at least two regimes.  Through interviews and observances of the players within this revolution, the film manages to simultaneously make its point known (people should be free) but also demonstrate the difficulties and complexities of progress within a modern society.  There is a naivet√© to those involved as the film opens, an optimism that seems to seem out of them through the course of events, even as the tide is turning.  The doc is available to stream now on Netflix and I would encourage you to watch it, though be warned as about two thirds of the way through things get a little graphic.

1. Blue Jasmine was forced on me.  There, I said it.  As with most other Oscar nominated films, while I did want to see it, I haven't gotten around to it yet so when Matt insisted that I watch it, I did.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I believe that Cate Blanchett may be the Meryl Streep of our generation (not that I'm counting out La Streep).  Her performance in this film was nothing short of captivating and even as I hated her, I couldn't help but root for her strange and fractured existence to continue its tenuous progress.  Jasmine is a widowed former New York socialite whose decline takes her to her adopted sister's house in San Fransisco to recuperate.  While learning to take care of herself Jasmine struggles to unpack the events that have led to her downfall, most particularly the arrest and prosecution of her husband Hal (played by Alec Baldwin).  Now this may not sound like an enjoyable afternoon film but Blanchett is so captivating as this character, so poised and yet careening out of control, that it's impossible to look away.  I'm not surprised that she's been nominated (and winning) awards all season long and while I'm not sure I agree with the Original Screenplay Oscar nom for Allen, I wholeheartedly support the nominations for Blanchett and supporting actress (and CineCritical favourite) Sally Hawkins.

So true to form those are my picks, a little scattered by definitely worth checking out.  Matt's Picks include quite a few films I'm hoping to see before the Oscars, most notably 12 Years a Slave and Fruitvale Station but here are a few extra tidbits I felt needed mentioning:

Film I am most likely to force Matt to see again:
Gravity.  Between the Oscar nominations and the way that everyone raves about the
visuals, this is one I anticipate should be seen in theatres (but have as yet been delinquent about doing).

Best film not released this year that I watched:
While there were many films I actually watched this year, not many were able to pierce the cold cold heart of my ennui.  For that reason, the prize here goes to Never Let Me Go (though Matt would disagree).  Perhaps it was simply a matter of right place/right time but I found the quiet contemplation of this film to be utterly stunning and the premise heartbreakingly engaging.

Most overrated film of 2013:
Definitely Wolf of Wallstreet, though Now You See Me baffled me by continuing to be something those around me claimed to have liked and American Hustle was DEFINITELY not deserving of all the Oscar hype.

Most disappointing film of 2013:
The Great Gatsby took my heart and stomped all over it.  The idea of using hip-hop as a Jazz stand in that today's audience would enjoy is genius and there were so many good ideas here that weren't properly executed that it made me sad because I LOVE this book.  It's too bad, because I've seen Baz Luhrmann do some crazy things really well.  It would have been nice for this one to work.
Runner-up: The Heat.


  1. I really did like The Spectacular Now. But I felt compelled to choose Short Term 12 instead. I love Shailene Woodley more than Brie Larson, but Larson was too good for words.

    I didn't so much force you to watch Blue Jasmine - I'm going to blame your watch (or your timekeeping skills). I just got it on Blu Ray. Can't wait to watch it again. So excited for Sally Hawkins' nomination!

    I liked Much Ado About Nothing, even tried to find a spot in my top ten. Maybe I just need to be more willing to experience Shakespeare. My mom would like that. Her Christmas gift would make more sense.

    And yes, let's go see Gravity! In IMAX!

  2. Replies
    1. I'm fifth-wheelin' this date!

      Siobhan: was The Heat a runner up for disappointment? I thought it was funny---and I was watching the censored Southeast Asian airplane version too, so that's saying something.

  3. That IS saying something, but I'm actually not surprised that the censors version was funnier. Italy have tightened things up a bit? The disappointment I felt shouldn't imply that I didn't enjoy the movie....just that I thought it could have been better. Meh.