Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.” “The Wolf of Wall Street.” “Saving Mr. Banks.” “The Act of Killing.” “Nebraska.” “”Inside Llewyn Davis.” “Dallas Buyers Club.” “Frozen.” “Carrie.” “The Fifth Estate.” “The Counselor.” “Her.” “August: Osage County.” “Philomena.” “The Great Gatsby.” “The Art of Killing.” “Blue is the Warmest Color.” These are just a handful of the 2013 releases I haven’t seen yet. Yes, I’m always behind on my moviewatching (and, as an amateur “critic,” I never have the chance to see some movies until their Atlanta releases in January), but the end of this year has been particularly tough to play catch-up with in terms of my moviegoing.

A lot has changed in the past twelve months of my life. Well, two things, really, but they were huge changes. The first is that, at the start of 2013, I began a romantic relationship with a dear friend of mine for many years. It’s my first one, and it’s been a very welcome change in my life, as she’s inspired me to try and be a better individual all around, and has afforded me opportunities that (welcomely) took me out of my comfort zone this year. The second is that, in October of this year, my father passed away. I’m an only child, and the rest of our family is scattered around the country, so it’s just my mother and me in Georgia. That has been a tough transition, and led to a lot of stress and changing my routine that has made watching movies on a regular basis difficult, although as far as the holiday movies, my crazy work schedule has had an impact, as well.

As a result of all of this, I am holding off on presenting my own Best, Favorite, and Worst lists for 2013 until sometime in mid-late January, where I hope to have a better track record of moviewatching with some of the above films (as well as being better caught up on my filmmaker screeners), and therefore, can have a more complete view of my moviegoing year. Granted, I don’t necessarily see the top 2 or 3 slots of my respective lists changing much, but beyond the top four, I don’t have a solid list of 10 favorite films of the year, much less an honest order for them. I will still be doing my Oscar blogs on schedule, based on what I’ve seen at those times, but my “official” lists will be waiting.

That being said, though, I don’t have a problem teasing you with my thoughts on the six films that had the strongest impact on me this year:

“Gravity” (Alfonso Cauron)- In October, my father passed away as a result of heart issues. Dealing with issues of life and death was, of course, a huge part of the process of working through that grief, which made Alfonso Cauron’s handling of the subject in his exceptional sci-fi thriller all the more potent, especially when I saw the film for the second time after my father died. “Gravity” may have the structure of a genre film, but thematically, this adventure movie about Sandra Bullock’s astronaut’s survival in space is every bit as profound as a film like “12 Years a Slave” or “Stories We Tell” in what it has to say about life and humanity. But that shouldn’t be surprising from the director of “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (the best “Potter” film), “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” and “Children of Men.”

“Pacific Rim” (Guillermo Del Toro)- Although there were other movies this summer I was looking forward to more, in reality, Guillermo Del Toro’s monster mash adventure flick was what I really couldn’t wait for. From trailer one, the Mexican master of fantasy’s robot vs. monster epic looked…fun. No self serious, “Dark Knight”-like tone. No melodramatic pangs of consciousness. And, in characters played by Ron Pearlman and Charlie Day, a steady stream of humor throughout. The result is one of the most enjoyable summer movies in many a year, and a lot of that comes from Del Toro, who led the effects wizards at Industrial Light & Magic to some of their finest, most detailed work ever, at the service of a script by the director and original screenwriter Travis Beacham that understands the summer blockbuster formula, and what makes the best ones special.

“Warm Bodies” (Jonathan Levine)- I began a wonderful journey last January, when a long-time friend and I took things to the next level, and we’ve been going strong ever since. This unique zombie love story was the first film we saw as a “FB official” couple, but that’s not the only reason it’s on my favorites list this year. What this film does right that “Twilight” failed at, in my opinion, is that it’s star-crossed couple (Nicholas Hoult’s R and Teresa Palmer’s Julie) are equal partners emotionally, both having to make changes in their thinking, and lives, in order to make their love work. This pairing isn’t guaranteed to work, but Hoult and Palmer give us reason to root for them, with Levine (“50/50”) giving us a wicked blend of love, laughs, and genuine scares around them that makes for a delightful, unique movie experience.

“Before Midnight” (Richard Linklater)- I’m not one who saw Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” in theatres, but I had definitely heard of it, and what I heard interested me. I finally saw it in 2004, shortly before seeing the director’s sequel, “Before Sunset,” which reunited Ethan Hawke’s Jesse and Julie Delpy’s Celine after nine years, and I was immediately a fan for life as we saw the idealistic 20-somethings of “Sunrise” grow into uncertain 30-somethings in between their meetings in Vienna and Paris. Now, nine years after Paris, we reunite with Jesse and Celine, and even though their life together has been wonderful, we see the 40-somethings weighing the pluses and minuses of their life together, and coming to another crossroads. Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy have a deep affection for these characters that comes through in their insightful, honest screenplay that feels so close to real-life you’d almost think this was a documentary instead of a narrative feature. The six hours we’ve spent with these characters has been as close to cinematic bliss as I can imagine. Hopefully, the director and stars have more stories to tell as the characters come to the twilight of their lives. Hopefully, we’ll find out in nine years…

“Joke” (Nickolas Duarte)- Like a good joke, this short film either lands with you, or it doesn’t. Comedy is subjective, and Nickolas Duarte’s film, like the riskiest stand-up comics, barrels along, for three minutes, providing narrated jokes that run the gamaut in taste, while presenting imagery that seems grim, but is tonally inspired when fit with Kevin Yon’s delivery. Few short films really make a lasting impact with me, but “Joke” isn’t like other short films. It’s startling, original, and unafraid of offending. Just like a good joke.

“The Conjuring” (James Wan)- James Wan may have made his big splash with the torture porn thriller, “Saw,” but with this film and the two “Insidious” films that have bookended it, he has finally come into focus as one of the great horror directors of our time. Based on a true story, “The Conjuring” is a chilling tale of possession and supernatural hauntings that owes much to films like “The Exorcist” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” but with real-life paranormal experts Ed and Lorraine Warren (played here by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) at its center, it also becomes something of a great detective story, as well as the launching pad for what could be an amazing franchise where subtle tension (aided by Wan’s masterful use of sound design and images) is more important than blood and guts. That’s a legacy I can get behind for this smart filmmaker.

And, of course, with the new year comes new films to look forward to, so here are the 2014 movies I’m most waiting for.
1. “Captain America: The Winter Solier” (4/4) & “Guardians of the Galaxy” (8/1)- More Marvel Phase Two adventures, with Captain America (Chris Evans) looking further into the real story at S.H.I.E.L.D., and James Gunn (“Slither,” “Super”) being the writer/director to expand the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe with a band of galactic misfits including a sentient tree and a sarcastic raccoon.
2. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (5/23)- Bryan Singer returns to the “X-Men” universe as a director for the first time in a decade with a potential game-changer for the franchise, bringing his own spin to a classic story, and bringing the casts of the original “X-Men” movies and 2011’s “X-Men: First Class” together.
3. “Rosewater” (TBD)- Comedian Jon Stewart’s first film behind the camera, based on the extraordinary true story of a journalist’s imprisonment in Iran. He’s poked fun at his on-screen film career, but I have a feeling his directorial career is going to be just fine.
4. “Jupiter Ascending” (7/18)- Andy and Lana Wachowski make their first, original sci-fi movie since “The Matrix” trilogy. I was never a big fan of that series, but after “Speed Racer” and “Cloud Atlas,” and the first trailer for this film, I can’t wait to see what the siblings have in store for us.
5. “Grand Buddhapest Hotel” (3/7)- Wes Anderson is becoming one of my favorite filmmakers after his last three, quirky films (“The Darjeeling Limited,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” and “Moonrise Kingdom”), and the trailer for his newest film looks like another delightful treat.
6. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 1” (11/21)- After the unpredictable revelations at the end of “Catching Fire,” I’m looking forward to see what’s next as Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) tries to take down the society President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is trying to maintain.
7. “The Hobbit: There and Back Again” (12/17)- Peter Jackson’s final journey to Middle Earth. ‘Nuff said.
8. “Interstellar” (11/7)- Christopher Nolan’s first film, post-“Dark Knight” trilogy. The cast is amazing, and the story (which appears to be about the space race of the ’60s) looks enticing.
9. “Inherent Vice” (TBD)- Paul Thomas Anderson’s newest film, based on a pulp detective novel, reuniting him with his “Master” star, Joaquin Phoenix.
10. “Noah” (3/28)- “Black Swan” and “The Fountain” director Darren Aronofsky takes on the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark. Based on the trailer, the tale seems well-suited for Aronofsky’s cinematic studies of obsession, but will his first big-budget epic (“The Fountain” only cost $35 million) be up to snuff? I’ll be seeing it in IMAX to find out.
11. “Godzilla” (5/16)- The teaser definitely has my attention, and already looks better than Roland Emmerich’s 1998 dud.
12. “Big Hero 6” (11/7)- Disney’s first animated Marvel movie, based on a little-known property from the comic giant. We barely know a thing about it, but I know I’m in for what could be the start of something great for the Mouse House.
13. “How to Train Your Dragon 2” (6/13)- The 2010 original is Dreamworks’s best animated feature. Period. I’m weary of them making a sequel, but from what I’ve seen, it looks like they’ve done right by the first movie.

Viva La Resistance!

Brian Skutle
www.sonic-cinema.com

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