Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

This summer, I kept a pretty steady pace in my moviewatching up until late June, when I ended up with a backlog of big movies to watch longer than even those of summer’s past. Truth be told, however, this has been a really busy one between work and my first romantic relationship, which also led to my first, real vacation in many a year. It was a good reason to get behind.

That said, there were, of course, movies I hated missing. Partially because the theatre I work at got every family film this summer (along with the aforementioned relationship), there hasn’t been an animated film I missed this summer, meaning I’m well prepared for this coming awards season for that category, unlike the past couple of years. Unfortunately, I managed to miss the following in theatres: “The Great Gatsby,” “Now You See Me” (probably the summer’s most surprising hit), “The Bling Ring,” “The East,” “Only God Forgives,” “Blue Jasmine,” and more. Still, I’m going strong when it comes to my Netflix viewing, so between that and the backlog I’ve accumulated in terms of indie screeners, this will be one wild and crazy Fall. But now, to look back at this summer, which was one of the most unpredictable in terms of expectations vs. reality. I hope you enjoy!

Brian Skutle

End-of Summer 2013 Best/Worst/Oscar-Worthy:
Best Film: “Before Midnight” (A+); When Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy continued the story of Jesse and Celine back in 2004 with “Before Sunset,” nine years after their sweet, lovely “Before Sunrise” came and went, people were quite surprised, but embraced their return entirely. Now, we catch back up with the star-crossed lovers as, in middle age, they have built a life together, with kids and responsibilities. The question is, “Has the magic disappeared?” I wouldn’t dare answer that for you here, simply because it’s too wonderful to watch these three answer it themselves, with performances and writing as rich and moving as anything they’ve ever done in their careers. Delpy, in particular, stands out as Celine, but then again, she always has. Why else would Jesse fall for her in the first place? “Before Midnight” answers that with a romantic soul few other films have had.

Best Entertainment: “Pacific Rim” (A); For a while, things were looking pretty grim for this category. Thankfully, I had “Before Midnight” I could have gone to in a pinch, because honestly, the blockbusters weren’t really cutting it for a while. Yes, I enjoyed “Iron Man 3” and “Man of Steel” more than most, and the sixth “Fast and the Furious” film was definitely long on entertainment, but none of them blew me away, and entertained me, quite as much as “The Avengers” did last year. Then came Guillermo del Toro with this mammoth-sized adventure about giant robots, operated by two pilots, facing off against giant monsters. Sadly, the film has underperformed in America, but international audiences have caught on with the special blend of large scope action and down-to-Earth heart the director of the “Hellboy” films and “Pan’s Labyrinth” put together. The result was the most fun I’ve had at the movies thus far in 2013, and even with the potential on its way in the Fall, I don’t know whether that will change much.

Worst Film: “The Purge” (D); Keep in mind– this is the worst SUMMER film I’ve seen in the past four months. There were a couple of early-2013 losers that made my shit list when I watched them on Netflix, and that might happen again with some of the summer films I have yet to see. What makes “The Purge” particularly grating for me is that it has a great horror/thriller premise– what if, for one night a year, all crime was legal? –that could have resulted in a modern-day “Clockwork Orange,” but instead resulted in a contrived, not nearly fun enough horror film that left much to be desired. Thankfully, a much bigger hit, “The Conjuring,” helped wipe away the pain of this failure with real skill and scares, and the end-of-summer “You’re Next” finished the job of erasing this from my memory.

Worst Disappointment: “Despicable Me 2” (B-); As you can see by the grade, this was hardly the worst film of the summer. And with over $300 million in North America alone, it’s hardly the most disappointing film financially. So why is it here? Because of how it went for laughs with more of the audience favorite Minions, while completely ignoring the emotional stuff that made the first one so surprising, and winning, in 2010. Don’t get me wrong, the Minions are great, but a little of them goes a long way comedically, and the heart with Gru and his adoptive family was a big reason for the first film’s success. This shouldn’t have been just a “do it for the money” sequel, but it certainly felt like one.

Biggest Laughs: “This is the End” (B+); Admittedly, this apocalyptic comedy is one of the loosest, most problematic comedies in recent years when it comes to tone, and even laughs, but no comedy this summer, or this year, hit my in the funny bone quite like this one. A lot of it has to do with the “exaggerated reality” the actors go to in playing versions of themselves, and a lot of it has to do with just how alternately subversive yet respectful the film can be when it comes to theological notions of the Rapture. Seriously, this film goes a lot of different places for laughs, and even if it doesn’t land them all, it lands enough to be far more entertaining than something like “We’re the Millers.”

Biggest Surprise: “Furious 6” (A); Admittedly, I could easily go with either “World War Z” or “The Lone Ranger” here, as both of them exceeded the expectations I had for them, but I’m going with the latest entry in the “Fast and Furious” series. The reason is simple: after not really doing anything for me with either of the first two films, this cars and muscles franchise kicked it into high gear big time with 2011’s “Fast Five,” which was a terrific heist film that played with the formula of the franchise, and Justin Lin (who has directed the last four films in the series) took that rejuvenation to a whole new level with this ‘s film, which not only brought back the whole cast, which is refeshingly diverse, but also continued the energy of the past two films while also playing to the series’s surprising emotional core. Talk about making me do a 180; now, you can bet the seventh film, to be directed by “The Conjuring’s” James Wan, will be a must-see for me.

Biggest Dud: “After Earth” (C-); M. Night Shyamalan continued his trek to rock bottom as a filmmaker with this sci-fi epic starring Will Smith and his son, Jaden, minus the charisma both have shown in roles ranging from “Men in Black” and “The Pursuit of Happyness” to “I Am Legend” and “The Karate Kid,” as a father and son stranded on an abandoned Earth, and left to fend for themselves. Thanks to muted, emotionless performances by both Smiths (especially lethal to Jaden, who is the film’s main actor), this film sinks like a stone despite some decent effects and set pieces. It’s a shame, because there are some intriguing ideas in this film before it’s crushed under the weight of its lofty pretensions.

Most Gratuitous Cash-In: “The Hangover Part III” (B). The good news? This was better than “The Hangover Part 2” back in 2011, with a fresher narrative for Bradley Cooper, Zack Galifianakis, and Ed Helms to play within. The bad news? It’s just as pointless a cash-grab as that sequel was. Thankfully, audiences stayed away, at least relative to the first sequels, meaning we won’t be getting any more adventures with The Wolf Pack. Personally, they should have stopped with the first film.

Favorite Performances: Instead of trying to come up with something to write about each performance/character, I’m just gonna be running them down for you: Julie Delpy, “Before Midnight”; Ethan Hawke, “Before Midnight”; Rinko Kikuchi, “Pacific Rim”; Amy Acker, “Much Ado About Nothing”; Chloe Grace Moretz, “Kick-Ass 2”; Nathan Fillion, “Much Ado About Nothing”; Matt Damon, “Elysium”; Michael B. Jordan, “Fruitvale Station”; Brad Pitt, “World War Z”; Mary-Louise Parker, “RED 2”; Henry Cavill, “Man of Steel”; Jonah Hill, “This is the End”; Ben Kingsley, “Iron Man 3”; Shailene Woodley, “The Spectacular Now”; Robert Downey Jr., “Iron Man 3”; Alexis Denisof, “Much Ado About Nothing”; Sandra Bullock, “The Heat”; Emma Watson, “This is the End”; Sharlto Copley, “Elysium”; and Ron Pearlman, “Pacific Rim.”

Oscar-Worthy Mentions:
In a break from my usual practice, I’m just gonna go with the ones I’d most like to see nominated (and so far occupy slots in my own Oscar ballot) rather than listing everything.

Best Picture: “Before Midnight”; “The Conjuring”; “Fruitvale Station”; “Pacific Rim”; “Much Ado About Nothing”

Best Director: Richard Linklater, “Before Midnight”; Ryan Coogler, “Fruitvale Station”; Guillermo Del Toro, “Pacific Rim”; Joss Whedon, “Much Ado About Nothing”; James Wan, “The Conjuring”; Neill Blomkamp, “Elysium”

Best Actor: Ethan Hawke, “Before Midnight”; Michael B. Jordan, “Fruitvale Station”; Simon Pegg, “The World’s End”; Alexis Denisof, “Much Ado About Nothing”; Brad Pitt, “World War Z”; Miles Teller, “The Spectacular Now”; Patrick Wilson, “The Conjuring”; Matt Damon, “Elysium”

Best Actress: Julie Delpy, “Before Midnight”; Amy Acker, “Much Ado About Nothing”; Vera Farmiga, “The Conjuring”; Shailene Woodley, “The Spectacular Now”

Best Supporting Actor: Nathan Fillion, “Much Ado About Nothing”; Ben Kingsley, “Iron Man 3”; Jonah Hill, “This is the End”; Sean Maher, “Much Ado About Nothing”; Nick Frost, “The World’s End”; Sharlto Copley, “Elysium”; Ron Livingston, “The Conjuring”; John Malkovich, “RED 2”

Best Supporting Actress: Lili Taylor, “The Conjuring”; Chloe Grace Moretz, “Kick-Ass 2”; Melonie Diaz, “Fruitvale Station”; Octavia Spencer, “Fruitvale Station”; Mary-Louise Parker, “RED 2”

Best Original Screenplay: “The Conjuring” (Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes); “Pacific Rim” (Guillermo Del Toro, Travis Beacham); “Fruitvale Station” (Ryan Coogler); “The World’s End” (Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg); “This is the End” (Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg)

Best Adapted Screenplay: “Before Midnight” (Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy); “Much Ado About Nothing” (Joss Whedon); “The Spectacular Now” (Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber); “Iron Man 3” (Shane Black, Drew Pearce); “Man of Steel” (David S. Goyer, Christopher Nolan)

Best Original Score: “Man of Steel” (Hans Zimmer); “Pacific Rim” (Ramin Djawadi); “Star Trek Into Darkness” (Michael Giacchino); “The Conjuring” (Joseph Bishara); “Monsters University” (Randy Newman); “Elysium” (Ryan Amon); “You’re Next” (Mads Heldtberg, Jasper Justice Lee, Kyle McKinnon)

Best Original Song: None that I can remember.

Technical Oscars Run-Down: “The Conjuring” (Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction); “Pacific Rim” (Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction); “Elysium” (Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction); “Man of Steel” (Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design); “Kick-Ass 2” (Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design); “You’re Next” (Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Makeup); “Much Ado About Nothing” (Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing)

Summer 2013: The Complete Moviewatching List:
The A’s: “Before Midnight” (A+); “The Conjuring” (A+); “Fruitvale Station” (A); “Nihilism” (A); “Pacific Rim” (A); “Elysium” (A); “Iron Man 3” (A); “Epic” (A); “Furious 6” (A); “Man of Steel” (A-); “Much Ado About Nothing” (A-); “Monsters University” (A-);
The Spectacular Now”
(A-); “RED 2” (A-); “The Heat” (A-)

The B’s: “This is the End” (B+); “The Wolverine” (B+); “You’re Next” (B+); “Star Trek Into Darkness” (B+); “All American Zombie Drugs” (B+); “The Lone Ranger” (B+); “2 Guns” (B+); “World War Z” (B); “The World’s End” (B); “Blackout” (B); “Turbo” (B); “The Hangover Part III” (B); “Despicable Me 2” (B-)

The C’s: “Kick-Ass 2” (C); “We’re the Millers” (C); “After Earth” (C-)

The D’s: “The Purge” (D)

The F’s: None.

Brian’s 10 “Must-See” Movies of Fall 2013
Looking at what’s coming up this Fall, it looks to be a great, diverse Oscar season for movies, so much so that I could fill an entire alternate Top 10 that would be just as worthy. That said, these ten have my interest peaked.

1. “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (11/22)- There are a lot of promising sequels this fall, as you’ll see below, but honestly, the one I’m most looking forward to is the next chapter in Lionsgate’s “Hunger ” franchise. Yes, a big part of that is the ever-adorable Jennifer Lawrence in the role of Katniss Everdeen, but based on the trailers, it looks as though new director Francis Lawrence (“I Am Legend,” “Constantine”) is continuing the same, gritty aesthetic Gary Ross brought to the first film, and that can only work in this series’s favor.

2. “Thor: The Dark World” (11/8)- Marvel’s Phase Two continues with another sequel, this one returning to Asgard and the otherworldly realms as Chris Hemsworth brings his natural star power to the God of Thunder. Kenneth Branagh is out as director, and being replaced by Alan Taylor, who has become acclaimed for his work on the HBO smash series, “Game of Thrones.” The trailers point to a grittier look than the 2011 film had, and more Loki sneakiness, not to mention a darker film in general. I can’t wait.

3. “The Wolf of Wall Street” (11/15)- After a decade of prestige films that saw much in the way of Oscar nominations, as well as that long-elusive win, Martin Scorsese returns to the mean streets of modern day New York, but it’s one street in particular that is his focus. This is arguably the most excited collaboration he’s had yet with his modern muse, Leonardo DiCaprio, since they started working together for 2002’s “Gangs of New York,” and I can’t wait to see what he can bring out of Matthew McConaughey, who seems primed for an Oscar these days, and Jonah Hill. That trailer? Brilliant.

4. “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (12/13)- As could have been expected, Peter Jackson’s second trip through Middle Earth is proving less exciting critically, and in terms of Oscar love, as his adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings” a decade ago. However, the lowered expectations that came with several of the reviews helped me enjoy the first film in this new trilogy even more, and with a confrontation with the dragon Smaug on the menu for film two, I can’t wait to see how this one turns out.

5. “Gravity” (10/4)- Early word on this work of “hard” science fiction is nothing short of remarkable, and I wouldn’t expect anything less. After all, this is the film Alfonso Cauron has spent the past seven years bringing to life after his acclaimed “Children of Men.” With George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as astronauts who get caught in a dangerous situation when Sandy’s tether breaks, one can expect another visual marvel from the director of the best “Harry Potter.” The question is, will this be another “Solaris” for Clooney, or will his and Bullock’s considerable star power turn this into a box-office smash, and another Oscar trip for Cauron?

6. “Insidious: Chapter 2” (9/13)- How does a horror sequel beat out some of the films, and filmmakers, on this list, and even off it? When it’s a promising follow-up to a 2011 hit that’s one of my favorite horror movies of all-time, and when it’s directed by James Wan, who not only removed himself from the shadow of “Saw” with the first film, but also followed it up with an even better horror film in this summer’s smash, “The Conjuring.” Plus, he moves away from horror after this film to direct the seventh “Fast & Furious” film, so I’ve got to get my horror fix from him when I can.

7. “Oldboy” (11/27)- Before Spike Lee turned to Kickstarter to help fund his next film, about humans addicted to blood, and after a couple of indies that failed to see wide release, the “Malcolm X” and “Do the Right Thing” director is bringing his signature blend of unpredictability and raw feeling to reimagining the manga and, of course, the iconic 2005 film from Chan Wook-Park about a man imprisoned for 15 years without reason, only to be released just the same. In Lee’s film, it’s 20, and the main character is played by Josh Brolin. This is Lee’s most promising look at a box-office hit since “Inside Man,” and the trailer, while hinting at obvious nods to Wook-Park’s great film, also gives us an idea that an original approach will be applied to the material. I’m looking forward to it.

8. “Her” (12/20)- Any time music video guru Spike Jonze has made a film, it’s become a major event for this geek, starting with his Oscar-nominated “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation.,” and even with his criminally underrated “Where the Wild Things Are.” This time, he’s working with another off-beat storyline, as a man (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with a computer operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Your guess is as good as mine as to how this will work out, but stories of loneliness are a Jonze specialty, so it’s not hard to think his latest one will be yet another curious, emotionally rich fable.

9. “The Counselor” (10/25)- Ridley Scott directing an original script from “No Country for Old Men” author Cormac McCarthy. Yes, please! Yes, Scott has been very hit-and-miss the past few years, but this thriller about a lawyer who finds himself in the middle of a drug trafficking ring should be right up the “American Gangster” director’s alley, especially with a cast that includes Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, and Michael Fassbender. The only question is, will Oscar bite in such a competitive year?

10. “The Fifth Estate” (10/11)- After a stint directing the final two “Twilight” films, director Bill Condon returns to the type of fascinating, idiosyncratic character study/biopic that made him an Oscar winner, and rising star, with “Gods and Monsters” and “Kinsey.” This time, he’s taking on the enigmatic visage of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, currently in exile in an Ecuadorian embassy, and as his star, he has the fascinating hot British actor, Benedict Cumberbatch. Who knows whether this politically-charged film will have the same level of interest as “Zero Dark Thirty” did last year, and last Oscar season, but I’ll definitely be looking forward to seeing if Condon, and Dreamworks (who produced the film), can turn it into a player as the year comes to a close.

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