It's that time of year again. The time that film critics dread all year round. The time to declare the Best Movies of 2013.
There comes a time when we must stop kidding ourselves. These 'Hobbit' films – with 'The Desolation of Smaug' representing the shank of the trilogy – are not real movies. These are exploitation films for Tolkien nuts, for enthusiasts of the original 'Lord of the Rings' movies and for audiences so hungry for high fantasy they'll gobble up whatever is served to them and ask for seconds.
As someone who has sympathy, but not empathy, for those who have such proclivities, I can get why someone might come away liking this picture. But that is more of an involuntary reaction to exposure to certain elements, not the summation of a film. Listen, there's a grey-bearded wizard who warns in low tones about a place that sounds like “Doggledoor.” And there's someone referred to as “Thorin son of Thrain son of Thror.” I love that geekorama stuff more than most. It's hilarious, and I'll probably refer to my cat as “Thorin son of Thrain son of Thror” for the next week. But this movie doesn't cohere – there's no forward momentum, no character development, no story happening. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a fibber.
There is so much hair in 'American Hustle.'
Christian Bale's disastrous comb-over/rug combo basically opens the film with a wordless monologue. Beneath that unnatural mop is the sharp mind of Irving Rosenfeld, a “from the feet up” con man making the leap from running legit (but boring) dry cleaning businesses to grifting down-on-their-luck rubes on bad bank loans. His operation starts taking off when he hooks up with Amy Adams, a natural businesswoman looking to reinvent herself. She does this with a name change, a phony British accent and, later in the film, by frizzing her hair out to preposterous proportions.
Sometimes great artistry comes from coloring inside the lines.
Walt Disney Animation's newest film, 'Frozen,' does precious little to push the boundaries of narrative storytelling. Indeed, it is a quite predictable – might I even suggest formulaic - culmination of elements. While picking over the bones of a half-remembered Hans Christian Andersen story, 'The Snow Queen,' Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck's film expands certain themes, disposes of some characters and, of course, modernizes a bit for contemporary audiences. However, miraculously, this doesn't feel like a Xerox of a Xerox impersonating a classic Disney film. There's precious little winking; hardly any of the 'Shrek'-effect. 'Frozen' has enough of the goods to play it straight and succeed on its own terms. It is a major entry in family-friendly entertainment, one that ought to reverberate for years with tie-in toys and stage productions.
You'd think that a guy trapped in a hotel room for 20 years would find a better movie to be in once he got out, right?
'Oldboy,' Spike Lee's remake of the Park Chan-wook cult film from 2003, is a fairly rotten film, which is strange because it is very similar to the rather effective original. Sometimes, though, there's something gained in the translation.
When the closing credits rolled after the original 'The Hunger Games,' I thought to myself "eh, not bad." But I was in no rush to see the follow-up. When the closing credits rolled after Francis Lawrence's 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,' after I was able to collect myself, I was fully prepared to run out and get a mockingjay tattoo. Over my heart. With the phrase, "I will lay down my life for you, Katniss Everdeen, because you are the first and finest true hero of 21st century cinema."
War, in case you've forgotten, is hell.
I don't mean to sound flip concerning a very serious topic, but I'm not really sure what else to glean from Peter Berg's 'Lone Survivor,' a based-on-true-story tale of a Navy SEAL operation gone south. It is a brutal, unpleasant way to spend two hours. The violence is relentless and unsubtle, and when the audio/visual PTSD smoke clears, there's the realization that you've learned nothing about these characters or the wider situation in Afghanistan. Berg's sole intent is to simply show the job these men do - “gotta pay the bills,” one character IMs to his wife. While slice-of-life narrative can sometimes be rewarding, in a film with as much manipulation as this it just isn't enough. 'Lone Survivor' rattles but it doesn't stir.
To be a heart-on-your-sleeve weepie in 2013, you've got to have some far-fetched gimmick. 'About Time' has time travel, 'Safe Haven' had ghosts and 'Delivery Man' has Vince Vaughn as an anonymous sperm donor hunted down by hundreds of his young-adult offspring. The mechanics of the plot are so ludicrous that audiences should be forgiven for shouting, “No, sorry, it wouldn't work that way!” back at the screen. But one has to give the movie credit for its sheer audacity. It refused to offer an explanation for its instigating illogic. Great character actor Damian Young gets the unenviable task of delivering the hook with the phrase “certain complications arose ...”
I can't do it. I can't remove myself from the reality of my surroundings and engage with 'Saving Mr. Banks' on pure moviegoing terms.
Maybe it's a fault within me. Maybe I cling to cynicism too much. But if John Lee Hancock's film met me just halfway – if this were a roman a clef and the names of P.L. Travers, Walt Disney and Mary Poppins were changed – perhaps I could get over the hump and care about this picture more. But at the end of the day, this is a movie about Disney, made by Disney, in which a Disney business deal is presented as a transformative good. When the big emotional breakthrough happens at freaking Disneyland that was when I had to get off the ride.
Is it a Quantum Field Generator or a a Soul Forge? It's both, and that's why 'Thor: The Dark World,' like 'Thor' before it, is one of the best films that blends sci-fi and fantasy. Add the humor, star charisma and nods to the wider Marvel Movie Universe and you've got 120 minutes of straight-up nerdy glee. If dorky blood flows through your veins, you will love this movie.