Our Favorite Performances of 2013

DiCaprio Wolf of Wall Street

1. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street- A career-best performance for DiCaprio in his thrilling latest collaboration with Martin Scorsese.  He gives off machine-gun bursts of energy as Wall Street crook Jordan Belfort and shows an amazing knack for both physical and verbal comedy that his often-serious portrayals don’t let him bring out.  It’s both loud and rambunctious and deeply nuanced.  (Added Dec. 30) 

Frances Ha

2. Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha- This fantastic turn is the stunning result of Greta Gerwig’s New Wave collaboration with director Noah Baumbach.  While also serving as co-writer of the movie, Gerwig captures a rocky period of this 27-year-old dancer wannabe’s life with a contagious charm.  The movie is very much built around her unpredictability, and she captures the pain and anxiety of post-college youth without overplaying her hand.  She is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl whose dreams are her own.

blue-jasmine-trailer

3. Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine – Woody Allen’s latest simply wouldn’t have been as good without this thunderous performance from Cate Blanchett.  She manages the difficult task of creating a loathsome woman that also elicits pity.  After a long string of privileged existence, Jasmine is finally forced to confront the depths of her mental instability when her Madoff-esque husband is caught.  Blanchett gazes unflinchingly into the abyss of depression with raw feeling and crucial sympathy.

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REVIEW: This Is the End

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This Is the End
Directed by: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg
Written by: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg (screenplay), Jason Stone (short film)
Starring: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel

This Is the End rotates between being one of the funniest mainstream comedies in recent memory and one of the sloppiest.  If the budget had been hacked in half and forced directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg to go without all the CGI demons, it would have been ten times as good.

As it stands, though, it’s hard to argue with a movie where some of the funniest Hollywood actors play themselves during the apocalypse.  Every actor is at the top of their self-mocking form, and when the movie doesn’t detour into much weaker action territory, it’s hilarious.

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REVIEW: Spring Breakers

Spring Break

Spring Breakers
Directed by: Harmony Korine
Written by: Harmony Korine (screenplay)
Starring: Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, James Franco and Selena Gomez

A neon pop nightmare of startling depravity, Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers shows no mercy in its depiction of America as a doomed beach party.  Set in (where else?) Florida during peak Spring Break season, it tells the story of four college friends who wax philosophical on their demented quest for not just a good time, but the good time.  Along the way they meet a rapper/drug dealer named Alien (James Franco) who thinks he’s teaching them the ropes but is ultimately just along for the ride.

What makes Spring Breakers tick is not the countless slow motion shots of jiggling T&A, beer bongs and jock straps, but in the hyper-stylized rhythm that puts them into context.  Despite the club soundtrack and the atmosphere of excess, it feels more like horror party than peep show, though at times Korine is clearly lingering in the bared flesh.  As a whole, though, it is the most cinematically alive movie I’ve seen so far this year.

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REVIEW: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
Written by: Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver (screenplay), Pierre Boulle (book)
Starring: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, and John Lithgow

Rarely does anything even hinting at the label “philosophical” come close to being produced by a Hollywood studio, especially in the summer.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes is such a movie, though.  More than half of it is spent meditating on the birth of free will and the nature of violence.

This reboot is actually smart, and it’s propelled by a volcanic lead performance.  I’m not talking about James Franco.  He plays a fairly typical scientist motivated to cure a disease for personal reasons (his dad has Alzheimer’s).  I’m referring to Andy Serkis, who breathes so much life into the role of the ape Caesar that it comes close to touching what he did in the Lord of the Rings films.  He shows the true artistry of motion-capture acting.

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REVIEW: Howl

Howl
Directed by: Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman
Written by: Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman (screenplay)
Starring: James Franco, David Strathairn, Jon Hamm, and Jeff Daniels

There’s a moment in Howl, an aesthetically pleasing rumination on the creation and subsequent censorship trial of the infamous poem by Allen Ginsberg, where one of the many expert witnesses called to the stand is asked to explain its meaning.  He remarks that you can’t be asked to translate poetry into prose.  So it goes for the rest of the movie, where co-directors and co-writers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman take the poetry of “Howl” and the prose of interviews and court trials surrounding it, and weave a film out of it.

Epstein and Friedman have an insistence  on historical accuracy from the beginning.  The filmmakers go above the call of the common “Based on a true story,” slogan and instead proclaim that all of the dialogue in this film was uttered by the people it’s attributed to.  They even go so far as to say that in that sense, it could be read like a documentary.  Once you get a glimpse of the finely arranged frames, the shifting color palettes, and the highly-stylized animation sequences, though, you’ll know it’s something else.

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The Oscars: Forever restless, never young

Now that the smoke has cleared and the winners have been announced at the 83rd Academy Awards, I would like to offer a few thoughts on the ceremony.  Let’s begin with the most obvious:  that’s it?!

The Oscars came and went almost without incident this year, save for an early F-bomb from The Fighter winner Melissa Leo.  She was perhaps the evening’s most enthusiastic and entertaining winner, and she took the stage about 20 minutes into the show.  Before and after her it was dull montages interspersed with predictable winners.

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And the winners should be…. 2011 Oscar Predictions (Matt’s Picks)

Best Picture

The Social Network
Black Swan
The King’s Speech
127 Hours
Winter’s Bone
The Kids Are All Right
Inception
Toy Story 3
The Fighter
True Grit

Should Win I’d be the most happy with Social Network, Black Swan, or The Kids Are All Right.  There’s no real Blind Side this year, but The King’s Speech is the least deserving… and it’s also one of the front-runners.
Will Win: The Social Network has a real shot, but so does The King’s Speech. Many have already handed it to King George, but I’m leaning toward King Zuckerberg.
Snubbed: There’s really no Blind Side this year among the nominees. However, over The King’s Speech I would’ve nominated The Ghost Writer, Enter the Void, White Material, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Splice or I Am Love.


Best Director

Tom Hooper- The King’s Speech
Darren Aronofsky- Black Swan
Joel & Ethan Coen- True Grit
David Fincher- The Social Network
David O. Russell- The Fighter

Should Win: Aronofsky.  His direction on Black Swan was the best thing about the movie, which is saying a lot.  Fincher is also great, but so many other elements of Social Network would’ve worked on their own if not as well.  You can’t really say that about Black Swan.
Will Win: Fincher.  Even if The Social Network doesn’t walk away with the night’s biggest trophy, this one is a pretty safe bet.
Snubbed: Yes, yes, Christopher Nolan deserved a nomination  for Inception here over Tom Hooper, but don’t forget Danny Boyle.  His direction on 127 Hours was impeccable and his movie was better than both Inception and The King’s Speech.   I’d also throw in Lisa Cholodenko’s low-key genius in The Kid’s Are All Right, Gasper Noe’s hallucinatory brilliance in Enter the Void, Roman Polanski’s artful storytelling in The Ghost Writer and the mesmerizing work of Claire Denis in White Material.

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