6 movies to end 2013

First of all an announcement. This is my 100th post on the WordPress platform, starting in Feb 2012. I had already done about 50 posts on the earlier avatar of this blog on Weebly in 2011. So that’s 150 posts in 3 years.

OK, enough with the statistics. Here are 6 movies I watched in the past one month…an interesting mix of indie and blockbuster fare…all worth watching:-

Mud – Matthew McConaughey went through this unbearable phase (for me, at least) in the past 10 years when he was acting in insipid romantic comedies like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Failure to Launch, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and Fool’s Gold. The actor who came to prominence in critically acclaimed indie films like Dazed and Confused and Lone Star in the early 90’s then went back and restored his indie creds with Richard Linklater’s Bernie in 2011. He quickly followed it up with a series of other small films like Killer Joe, The Paperboy, Mud and Dallas Buyers Club; I could even include Steven Soderbergh’s indie-like Magic Mike in this list. The results have been varied but at least he gets marks for trying. And it’s finally paying off…the 44-year-old actor is getting rave reviews this year for his performances in both Mud and Dallas Buyers Club. I watched Mud recently and was thoroughly engrossed by this coming-of-age tale inspired by Huckleberry Finn. The director Jeff Nichols is now considered one of the leading indie filmmakers in America. The real star of this Arkansas-set movie is teenage actor Ty Sheridan, who along with McConaughey’s character ‘Mud’, experiences both the rewards and risks of their respective romantic pursuits. MM and Sheridan construct a fascinating relationship…on one hand Mud is the ‘tough guy’ that the boy wishes his father was; on the other hand, it is Mud who desperately needs the boy’s help to escape from some unsavory characters and avoid ending up at the bottom of the Mississippi River. This ensemble drama features outstanding, nuanced performances from a host of lesser-known actors. And it has a happy ending to boot. McConaughey now seems to be back on an upward trajectory again – he has a role in Scorsese’s just-released The Wolf of Wall Street and returns next year as the lead in Chris Nolan’s new scifi film Interstellar.

Frozen – I thoroughly enjoyed Disney’s latest animation effort. It closely resembles Tangled (2010) in terms of treatment and tone, but the songs are far superior. And because it is based on a less well known Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, the flow of the plot is less obvious than in some of Disney’s other movies. All the characters are likable (even the villains), but the star of the film is the snowman Olaf voiced by Josh Gad…his ‘In Summer’ song is an instant classic, I think. This is going to be one of Disney’s biggest grossing non-Pixar animation films since their hey-days of the mid-90s.

Captain Phillips – British filmmaker Paul Greengrass is the man who loves to bring a documentary-like feel to movies, whether it is the shaky-cam approach of his Bourne films or the amateur video cam look of Bloody Sunday and United 93. He is therefore the perfect choice to direct Captain Phillips – the retelling of a real life ship hijacking off the coast of Somalia in 2009. Equally perfect is the choice of Tom Hanks to play the captain. It has been a while since Mr. Hanks has got this meaty a role…he has restricted himself to producing films and some poor acting choices (Larry Crowne, Charlie Wilson’s War) in recent years. But he is back in full force in this movie and the general view (which I agree with 100%) is that he will get an Oscar nomination just for the ‘infirmary scene’ at the end of the film. Here’s an article about how this unscripted scene came to be shot. This is an incredibly intense movie with unbelievable performances also from the first-time Somali actors Barkhad Abdi and Barkhad Abdirahman. Absolutely must-see.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Yes, we know everyone was a tad disappointed with Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth last year; the first Hobbit movie suffered from complaints about its length and repetitive nature of fight scenes (I suspect this was largely a self-inflicted perception stemming from all the press about how a 300-page book had been stretched into 3 films of nearly 3 hours each). I thoroughly enjoyed the first film and was happy to get in line for the 2nd one. I was not disappointed. It is as good as the first. While Martin Freeman (Bilbo), Ian McKellan (Gandalf) and Richard Armitage (Thorin Oakenshield) continue to command center stage as the key protagonists, there are plenty of other characters to add spice and variety. There are the 3 strong elvish characters – Orlando Bloom reprises his role as Legolas (he didn’t feature in the original book), we get to see the the female elf Tauriel created just for the movies (Evangeline Lilly of Lost is perfectly cast) and we have Lee Pace also perfectly cast as Thranduil, the king of the woodland elves and Legolas’ father. Of course, as the title suggests, we finally get to see the dragon Smaug in all his glory. And there is an amusing little turn by Stephen Fry as the Master of Laketown (although he is not as funny as I had hoped or expected him to be). There are some great action set pieces – the spider attack in Mirkwood and the barrel in the river; the latter in particular is as good as the best Indiana Jones sequences or anything else I have seen on film and well worth multiple viewings.

Love is All You Need – Two of Danish director Susanne Bier’s last 3 films have been nominated for Best Foreign Film Oscars, with In a Better World winning in 2011 (Interestingly, Mikael Persbrandt who acted in that film features as the changeling Beorn in the latest Hobbit film). Ms. Bier’s latest film Love is All You Need is too ‘light’ and commercial to be nominated for an Oscar, which is precisely why I enjoyed it so! Pierce Brosnan is a long-widowed Englishman who continues to live and work in his late wife’s native Denmark. He arrives at his lemon plantation in Italy to attend his son’s wedding with a Danish girl, Astrid. There he meets Astrid’s mother who is recovering from a battle with cancer and has just discovered that her husband has been cheating on her while she has been fighting for her life. Into this mix, the script throws in Brosnan’s self-obsessed sister-in-law who harbors a not-so-secret crush on him, Astrid’s philandering father who lands up for the wedding with his bimbo in tow and last but not least, Brosnan’s son who starts having doubts about getting married. It sounds like a farce, but the actors play it straight and it all works somehow. Very charming and always good to have a happy ending. I am definitely going to have to watch Ms. Bier’s 2 Oscar-nominated films now, although I will have to be prepared for heavier fare.

Parkland – Parkland is the name of the Dallas hospital where doctors attempted to save JFK after he was shot on that fateful day in 1963. The film chronicles the events that take place from the time of the shooting through the next 4 days until JFK’s body is flown out to Washington DC. The story is told from the perspective of the doctors at the hospital, the Secret Service and FBI agents who deal with the aftermath of the shooting, the family of the prime suspect Lee Harvey Oswald and Abraham Zapruder, the man who filmed the now famous footage of the shooting with his home movie camera. Zapruder is played by the ever-reliable Paul Giamatti. Also in a prominent role is Billy Bob Thornton as Secret Service Agent Forrest Sorrels who was in charge of the security detail on the day. Jackie Weaver is completely frightening as Oswald’s unhinged mother. Zac Efron features prominently in the movie’s publicity material as one of the doctors and he is a significant figure in the first 15 minutes of the film when they try desperately to save the President’s life. I enjoyed the film for the history lesson and for the sheer intensity of those hours and days after the shooting. And I have to admit, for the 60s hairstyles and clothing!

That wraps up my 2013 film watching. I still have 31 movies on my ‘watch list’ for 2013, mostly indie films, except for Saving Mr. Banks, The Wolf of Wall Street and 12 Years a Slave. A few like All is Lost (Robert Redford), Inside Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaacs), Dallas Buyers Club (McConaughey), Philomena (Judi Dench), August: Osage County (Meryl Streep/ Julia Roberts) and Nebraska (Bruce Dern) will gain prominence when the acting nominations are announced in a few weeks. As for the rest, I will have to pick my way through them before the 2014 summer blockbuster season begins!

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