Monday, July 29, 2013

"The Simpsons" at the Movies

A wonderful 20-minute time waster-- every film reference from the first five seasons, or "Golden Age" of The SimpsonsThe Wizard of Oz, Citizen Kane and Gone With the Wind are particularly popular, but the greater sight gags are the less obvious-- did you spot them all?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Wolverine came, and easily took the top place at the weekend box office, but it was more of a whimper than a boom-- the X-Men franchise still has some rehabilitation to stabilize the creative drudge that came from X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009.)  It was hardly the news story of the weekend however.

  1. The Wolverine- $55 million (new)
  2. The Conjuring- $22.1 million / $83.8 million total (-47%)
  3. Despicable Me 2- $16 millin / $306.4 million total (-35%)-- now the second highest grossing domestic title of 2013, behind Iron Man 3.
  4. Turbo- $13.3 million / $55.7 million total (-37%)
  5. Grown Ups 2- $11.5 million / $101.6 million total (-42%)- this marks Adam Sandler's 13th title to gross north of $100 million domestically-- how do we feel about that?
  6. Red 2- $9.4 million / $35 million total (-47%)
  7. Pacific Rim- $7.5 million / $84 million total (-52%)
  8. The Heat- $6.8 million / $141.2 million total (-26%)
  9. R.I.P.D.- $5.8 million / $24.3 million total (-53%)
  10. Fruitvale Station- $4.6 million / $6.3 million total (+529%)
The big news story was the astounding opening weekend gross for Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, which earned $613,000 on 6 screens this weekend for a per-screen average of $102,167.  That's the biggest per-screen average of the year so far, the biggest of Woody Allen's career (slightly above the $99,834 Midnight in Paris posted just years ago) unadjusted for inflation, the biggest per-screen victory ever accounted in Sony Pictures Classics' history (again, unadjusted) and enough to encourage the possibility that the critically accepted, already award-buzzed about film will expand well in the coming weeks.

Here's the Per-Screen Average Breakdown of 2013 So Far:
  1. Blue Jasmine- $101,167 (6 screens)
  2. Spring Breakers- $87,667 (3 screens)
  3. The Place Beyond the Pines- $69,864 (4 screens)
  4. Fruitvale Station- $55,184 (7 screens)
  5. Before Midnight- $49,483 (5 screens)
  6. The Bling Ring- $42,879 (5 screens)
  7. Iron Man 3- $40,946 (4,253 screens)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Wolverine and Woody

Hugh Jackman returns as the clawed superhero on which he is most familiar with The Wolverine, the only major release to debut this weekend.  Director James Margold (Walk the Line, Knight & Day) hopes to undue the damage brought on the spin-off franchise by the dwindling returns of the Wolverine's first solo entry which in 2009 earned awful reviews and despite a strong open, experienced a drastic fall.  The first days results proved a sigh of relief for the studio executives at 20th Century Fox, as it collected $21 million on its first day of release (including a sold $4 million from Thursday late shows-- an uptick of recent films like Pacific Rim and World War Z.)  While it will fall short of the $85 million opening of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the long end may appear brighter for the better reviewed flick which received an A- CinemaScore.  Here's how the X-Men series stands cash flow wise:

X-Men (2000)- $54 million opening ---> $157.2 million total
X2: X-Men United (2003)- $85 million opening ---> $214.9 million total
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)- $102 million opening ---> $234.3 million total
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)- $85 million opening ---> $179.8 million total
X-Men: First Class (2011)- $55 million opening ---> $146.4 million total

On the limited side of the openings, Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine is hoping to achieve one of the strongest per-screen averages of the year.  Allen's highest per-screen average so far was Midnight in Paris, which debuted on 6 screens for an average of $93,000.

UPDATE: Blue Jasmine will indeed have one of the more notable limited openings of the year as its first day gross was an estimated $176,000 for a stellar per-screen of $29,000.  It's positioned to open on par (or even perhaps slightly better) than Midnight in ParisFruitvale Station (review), meanwhile, expanded into wide release for a Friday gross of $1.4 million, good enough for the tenth slot.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Enough Said...

When Enough Said was announced as a title premiering at the upcoming Toronto Film Festival, I wasn't aware of any such film, but the "directed by Nicole Holofcener" byline immediately grabbed my attention, for her films have a way of doing that with me.  None of her four previous films have been huge hits, nor big awards gets, but they are small slices of cinema that have always left an indelible impression, a permanent imprint on me, for her modest chronicles or modern day women have always exhibited tight humor at its prickliest, relationships at their most well defined with a warts and all intimacy that few filmmakers have accomplished in recent cinema.  Of course, Enough Said might gain bigger notoriety when it's released this September via Fox Searchlight due the fact that it's one of the last projects completed by James Gandolfini...whatever the case, enough said, she deserves a bigger piece of the pie.  This is concerns that of a woman (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who seems a perfect choice for the Holofcener treatment...Elaine Benes herself might have been penned by her) whose nearly about to go through empty nest syndrome when a man (Gandolfini) enters her life.

Holofcener's work has always had a sparkle of Woody Allen...I intend that as a compliment as I mean vintage and vastly more consistent Allen.  This may serve as no mere mistake as the writer/director worked as an apprentice under Allen on both A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy and Hannah and Her Sisters.  She's also partly responsible for bringing Catherine Keener into bigger and brighter films.  What's your favorite of her films?  Mine-- Lovely & Amazing.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Girl Most Likely

Girl Most Likely opens with a point of view sequence charting its leading character through her seemingly enchanted and very posh Manhattan lifestyle.  On her way to some highbrow event, even whilst not showing her face until nearly the end of a lengthy title sequence, she already appears prickly.  At the end, a reflection-- it's that of Kristin Wiig, the gifted actress and extraordinary comedienne, the very same who turned a thousand undercooked sketches on Saturday Night Live and spun them into a wealth of comedic opportunities because of her unexpected timing and naturalistic go-with-it charm, the same who turned the uproarious Bridesmaids into that rare comedy that tapped into such a rarefied and wondrous exploration for feminine angst and rage.  Over the years, Wiig has deservedly earned our attention because of adept will at mining character within caricature, cultivating a strong sense of warmth, compassion and independent verve that's disarming as it is funny.  The first misstep in the sloppy and clunky Girl Most Likely is that Wiig's character, Imogene, is introduced as nothing more than a vanity object for a man.  It all starts out being about a boy.

Imogene is a promising playwright, or was once, having drifted past the stage in life where promising is still a complement, after giving it up for the uptown man of her elitist dreams.  After he goes astray and she loses her job, things start to become desperate for Imogene.  The only possible answer: to stage her own suicide so that her knight and shining armor will realize the error of his ways and the two will live out the rest of the their lives in wondrous harmony.  Girl Most Likely posits itself as a comedy, but there's little humor, merely strange and disparately connected asides.  It plays a lot like its main character-- desperate to be loved, but too lazy to put in the proper work to earn it.  Naturally, Imogene's grand scheme backfires and the pills she swallows put her back in the care of what she most strove to leave behind-- her mother.  Annette Bening plays Zelda, Imogene's Jersey mother, an impulsive hot bed of actorly tics rolled into tacky outfits.

The Talented Ms. Blanchett

Remember that period in the late 90s and early 00s where Cate Blanchett appeared in nearly every film released within the calendar year.  The Aussie appeared in no less than twenty feature films between the years 1997 and 2003, arguably her biggest peak of ubiquity.  Within that period she received countless praise, her first Academy award nomination (she currently has five career nominations with one win to record for those interested in taking tally), built a body of work that was built around an endless degree of shapeshifting, navigating films from small to gargantuan, from period to contemporary, amassing a career that seemed early on poised to threaten the great Meryl Streep on terms of versatility and degrees of difficulty; yes the poison of being called a "technical" actress has haunted both.  Recently, Blanchett has had a vastly smaller appearance on screens (in the last two years, Joe Wright's Hanna and last winter's The Hobbit were the only films), taking sabbatical on stage and, assuming, enjoying ones down time.  Things seem ripe to change in the near future, as Blanchett appears to entering another wave of ubiquity, starting off this week with the release of Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, which has been earning strong early reviews for her riff on a modern Blanche Dubois.  The awards machine already seems to have kicked off in her favor, a sight familiar to the actress.  She also has roles in George Clooney's WWII fall release The Monuments Men, a return trip to Galadriel in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and the Australian drama The Turning due later this year.  That's not all, 2014 looks majorly packed as well with vocal work in How to Train Your Dragon 2, the Middle Earth finale The Hobbit: There & Back Again, two Terrence Malick projects, one entitled Knight of Cups and the other untitled, which might just be the same movie for all we know, and the leading role in Todd Haynes' Carol.  All this plus a film in the works by David Mamet and the 2015 re-telling of Cinderella, where Blanchett will play the Evil Stepmother.  Whew!!!!!!  Fasten your seat belts.

Fruitvale Station

Shortly after midnight on January 1, 2009, Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old African American, was shot by a BART transit police officer in Oakland, California; he died a few hours later in the hospital.  Grant, who was unarmed, was returning home from New Year's Eve celebrations in San Francisco.  This real-life tale, which in of itself was a hot bed of instant news-making-- the event was captured by many a civilian cell-phones at the time it happened-- re-surged it's case for urgency and immediacy in wake of the recent events and subsequent trail of George Zimmerman.  The film which posits the last twenty-four hours in the life of Oscar Grant is the focus of Fruitvale Station, Ryan Coogler's alert debut feature won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at this years Sundance Film Festival.  Neither filmmaker, nor distributor (in this case, The Weinstein Company) could have known that the Zimmerman events (a case of another young and unarmed African American) would have coincided at the very same time.  It may seem a bit cynical to note, but it gives Fruitvale Station that unexpected glimmer of urgency that it may not have otherwise possessed.

Not that the film itself isn't a well calibrated movie.  Coogler, a youngster, aged twenty-seven, exhibits a clear-eyed expressiveness in telling his tale, an authority and a clarity that's for the most part devoid of earnestness and easy reductions.  His greatest asset exhibited in Fruitvale Station is in his view of Oscar himself, taking a harder to trod, more difficult assertion of raw humanity rather than painting the young man as saint nearing martyrdom.  It's in his unflinching presentation of man over issue that keeps the film fresh and nearly always above the surface.  We learn throughout that Oscar spent the New Years holiday a few years earlier incarcerated; Coogler neither judges nor dismisses.

Venice Film Festival Line-Up Announced

This year marks the 70th Venice Film Festival, one of the holy trifecta of fall festival season.  It was already announced that Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity, his bold 3-D lost in space science fiction odyssey will be opening out of competition.  Here is the rest of the slate:

Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin
Ana Arabia (Israel)- directed by Amos Gitai
Child of God (USA)- directed by James Franco- Just months after the Cannes premiere of Franco's Faulkner adaptation of As I Lay Dying, the actor-multi-hyphenate takes his adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel to Venice; Franco co-stars with Tim Blake Nelson. 
Es-Stouh (France)- directed by Merzak Allouache
Joe (USA)- directed by David Gordon Green-  Nicolas Cage and The Tree of Life's Tye Sheridan star in Green's latest, a drama about the relationship between an ex-con and a 15-year-old boy.
La Jalousie (France)- directed by Philippe Garrel
L'intrepido (Italy)- directed by Gianni Amelio
Miss Violence (Greece)- directed by Alexandros Avranas
Night Moves (USA)- directed by Kelly Reichardt
Philomena (UK)- directed by Stephen Frears- As expected Frears is premiering his latest drama-- about a woman and her search for her adult son-- in competition here.  Frears previously took his The Queen, Dirty Pretty Things and Liam to Venice.
The Policeman's Wife- directed by Philip Groning
Sacro Gra (Italy)- directed by Gianfranco Rosi
Stray Dogs (Taiwan)- directed by Ming-liang Tsai
Tom at the Farm (Canada)- directed by Xavier Dolan- The latest gay drama from the director of Laurence Anyways and I Killed My Mother.
Tracks (UK)- directed by John Curran- This biographical drama starring Mia Wasikowski and Adam Driver about a young woman who goes on a 1,700 mile trek across the deserts of West Australia will also play Toronto.  Curran previously directed Stone, The Painted Veil and We Don't Live Here Anymore.
Under the Skin (USA/UK)- directed by Jonathon Glazen-  Scarlett Johansson stars as in alien in Glazen's follow-up to Birth, the Nicole Kidman oddity that came out nine years ago.
The Unknown Known: The Life & Times of Donald Runsfeld (USA)- directed by Errol Morris
Via Castellana Bandiera (Italy)- directed by Emma Dante
The Wind Rises (Japan)- directed by Hayao Miyazaki
The Zero Theorem (USA)- directed by Terry Gilliam-- Gilliam's latest surrealist fantasia stars Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz and Tilda Swinton and involves a computer hacker's goal to discover the key to human existence.

Full list here.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


The one-sheet for Disney's Saving Mr. Banks, which goes behind the scenes of the making of Mary Poppins, which is incidentally the one and only live-action Disney film to get a Best Picture Oscar nomination-- Walt himself, won 22 Academy Awards, but received only one nomination for the big one.  Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney; Emma Thompson plays Poppins author P.L. Travers.

Toronto Film Festival Line-Up Announced

The Toronto Film Festival is the biggest beast of the fall festival, with it's yearly line-ups that are massive and daunting and filled to the brim with the seasons awards hopefuls. Last year, it was at where Silver Linings Playbook started its awards run, winning the Audience Award (of which has also been doled out to past Best Picture winners like Slumdog Millionaire, American Beauty and, gulp, The King's Speech) which culminated in eight Oscar nominations and Jennifer Lawrence's victory.  Toronto can kill Oscar dreams just as it can ignite them.  Here's the line-up so far:

 The Fifth Estate (USA)- directed by Bill Condon (World Premiere) (trailer)

American Dreams in China (Hong Kong/China)- directed by Peter Ho-Sun Chan (North American Premiere)
The Art of the Steal (Canada)- directed by Jonathon Sobol (World Premiere)
August: Osage County (USA)- directed by John Wells (World Premiere)- Heavy duty curio of 2013 with its massive ensemble (Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Juliette Lewis, Sam Shepard, Cumberbatch, etc.), so one quibble-- if this is ready for Toronto, why, oh why, is Weinstein waiting to release this during the dreaded Christmas glut?
Cold Eyes (South Korea)- directed by Cho Ui-seok & Kim Byung-seo (North American Premiere)
The Grand Seduction (Canada)- directed by Don McKellar (World Premiere)- Stars Taylor Kitsch of Battleship and John Mars infamy.
Kill Your Darlings (USA)- directed by John Korkidas (International Premiere)- Stars Daniel Radcliffe and Elizabeth Olsen; premiered at Sundance.
The Love Punch (France)- directed by Joel Hopkins (World Premiere)- Stars Emma Thompson and Pierce Brosnan.
The Lunchbox (India/France/Germany)- directed by Titesh Batra (North American Premiere)
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (UK)- directed by Justin Chadwick (World Premiere)- Another hot title from Weinstein with Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela-- can he score with the Academy a mere four years after Morgan Freeman was nominated for the same part?
Parkland (USA)- directed by Peter Landesman (World Premiere)- Stars Zac Efron and James Badge Dale.
The Railway Man (UK/Australia)- directed by Jonathan Teplitzky (World Premiere)- WWII drama with Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman; lacks a distributor at the moment.
The Right Kind of Wrong (Canada)- directed by Jeremiah Chechik (World Premiere)- Stars Ryan Kwanten (True Blood.)
Rush (USA/UK/Germany)- directed by Ron Howard
Shuddh Desi Romance (India)- directed by Maneesh Sharma (International Premiere)
Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon (USA)- directed by Mike Myers (World Premiere)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Comic-Con Goings-On

The annual nerds fest in San Diego, California, is in full-tilt gear.  Things to sort of care about:

  • The Avengers 2 gets a subtitle: "Age of Ultron"
  • How I Met Your Mother jokes on it's now nine-year high concept.
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire gets a new trailer:

  • Moon and Source Code director Duncan Jones is slated to direct Warcraft based on the obscenely popular and nerdy World of Warcraft game.
  • Tom Cruise made his first ever appearance to promote the sci-fi Groundhog Day film All You Need is Kill Edge of Tomorrow.
  • Veronica Mars: The Movie, the game changing Kickstarter production based on the Kristen Bell television series gets a first look featurette.

Oh, and the sequel to Man of Steel will feature Batman, but whatever.

One Year Later...

This weekend marks the one year anniversary of the opening of The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan's final film in his grand Caped Crusader trilogy.  It also marks the one year anniversary of one of the most wrenching acts of violence in recent American history.  Everyone who went to the first midnight screenings of The Dark Knight Rises at 12:01 AM on July 20, 2012, was unearthed by the news of the horrific acts that took place in Aurora, Colorado, at the Cinemark Century 16 multiplex.  I remember specifically-- walking out of my sold out auditorium, still shook from the events that transpired over the course of the intense nearly three-hour Dark Knight conclusion, and turning on my phone and pulling up Facebook (a force of habit) and being instantly shaken by the events.  As a lifetime lover of the film, and a purist to the point that I still prefer viewing films in theaters alongside others, it felt surreal, but also like a severe violation, as if my own home had been terrorized.  Where are we and where has the cinematic culture and the landscape of the theater experience one year removed from the tragedy in Aurora?

Saturday, July 20, 2013


The first half of the year usually is devoid of Oscar-y titles-- typically a dumping ground for product and the hopeful launch of things big and shiny-- but nonetheless we are well behind the first six months of 2013 and a short time ahead of the fall festival circuit when things start getting wonky.  Are there any takeaways thus far that may have any impact on the 2013 Oscar race?

It's true that Best Picture winners and nominees typically are introduced in the latter part of the calendar year-- since 2000 only three eventual Best Picture winners were released in the first half (The Hurt Locker, Crash, Gladiator) and only a handful of nominees (Up, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Midnight in Paris, Moulin Rouge!, Erin Brockovich) have managed that feat.  Still at this stage of the game when all is mere speculation and all in the movie awards land still feels pure and innocent, it's fun to ponder the playful possibilities.

The only Best Pictures winners since 2000 to be released before July.

Last year, the winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance was a plucky bit of poetry called Beasts of the Southern Wild which managed the nearly unbelievable task of netting four Oscar nominations including Picture and Director-- it became just the third Sundance to Oscar translation in history following Precious (2009) and Winter's Bone (2010.)  This year Sundance bestowed its top prize (as well as the Audience Award) to Fruitvale Station, Ryan Coogler's feature debut about the 2009 BART shooting of Oscar Grant.  The Weinstein Company hopes magic strikes again for the well-received film.  It opened last week in limited release to one of the biggest per-screen averages of the year (third to only Spring Breakers and A Place Beyond the Pines) and may very well enter the zeitgeist due to the sense of urgency bestowed due to the Zimmerman verdict (also last weekend.)  The key, of course, will be the position the great Harvey puts the film in towards the end of the year (remember, he's got a lot of awards potential set to come at the end of the year including August: Osage County, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Philamena and Grace of Monaco.)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

2013 Primetime Emmy Nominations

30 Rock
The Big Bang Theory
Modern Family

Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Jason Bateman, Arrested Development
Don Cheadle, House of Lies
Matt LeBlanc, Episodes
Louis C.K. Louie
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory 

Laura Dern, Enlightened
Lena Dunham, Girls
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Amy Poehler, Parks & Recreation 

Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Adam Driver, Girls
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family
Bill Hader, Saturday Night Live
Tony Hale, Veep
Ed O'Neill, Modern Family 

Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory
Julie Bowen, Modern Family
Anna Chlumsky, Veep
Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock
Jane Lynch, Glee
Sofia Vergara, Modern Family
Merritt Wever, Nurse Jackie 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"The Fifth Estate" and the Year of the Cumberbatch Continues

The first glimpse of The Fifth Estate from director Bill Condon, which should at the very least, surely, be a worthier sample of his talents than his following film (something to do with the epic conclusion of a teen-lit vampire phenom, or something.)  The film follows the story of Julian Assange, notorious founder of WikiLeaks, already the source of the years documentary We Steal Secrets by Alex Gibney.  More importantly, it's the starriest role this year for Benedict Cumberbatch, whose stellar and ubiquitous 2013 should make a startling case for best of year plaudits.

He started out his 2013 claim for uber-ubiquity as Khan (wait, is that generally known, yet?) in May's blockbuster-y Star Trek Into Darkness.  It's surprising that his nearly unanimously acclaimed role as the iconic villain hasn't really mustered any awards pleas from fans and critics, suggesting a diminishing returns effect from the fanboy collective against the film.  Cumberbatch was, nonetheless, compelling, his deep cadence providing a perfect mixture of fright and elegance.

Cumberbatch follows with a supporting role in Steve McQueen's drama 12 Years a Slave, which recently elicited salivary effects from the cineasts after the first trailer arrived a few days ago.   The film is an awards hopeful for Fox Searchlight-- wondering if Cumberbatch's role is enticing enough to merit consideration-- might be difficult considering the vast, and masterful ensemble of the film.

Come Christmas, Cumberbatch will be voicing the role of Smaug in the latest Hobbit chapter, but also be playing the part of "Little" Charles Aiken in August: Osage County, the very Christmas-y film adaptation of Tracy Letts Pulitzer and Tony Award winning play about a dysfunctional family.  Meryl Streep leads as the matriarch.  Another awards hopeful, another sprawling cast.

Which of the millions of Cumberbatch roles this year are you most looking forward to?

Orange is the New Black

The demise of the Hollywood movie with substance and character may have been the impetus to alleged second coming of "The Golden Age of Television," which itself may have led to alternative channels of creative programming, of the ilk that movie studios have little interest to invest in.  Whatever hyperbolic passages have lead us to what where we are now in this contemporary and confusion landscape of media, the ballsy folks in charge of Netflix seem clearly tuned to something-- something special, something weird, something challenging and daunting and surprising.  The magnitude and game-changing hosannas may materialize into nothing, once digested, but Netflix's new original series, Orange is the New Black is, at first glance, on mere face value, is rich and ripe with character and spark, the type of which Hollywood filmmakers have nearly completely neutered themselves free of, and joins the ranks of the most addictive and sharply etched serials currently navigating our regular air-waves.

Compulsively watchable and thoroughly engaging, Orange is the New Black, created by Jenji Kohan (Weeds) and based on the memoir by Piper Kerman, the show takes place in a rather dreary place-- a minimum security correctional facility for women-- yet is never dreary in itself.  Before you notice the rich tapestry of an ensemble cast-- played by a wide variety of extraordinary female characters, of which are of nearly all colors, sizes and ages-- or before the stories engage in their binge-worthy way, the take away from the beginning of Orange is the New Black is it's clearly established tone.  It's not quite a tragedy, nor a comedy, but something nearly inarticulately pitched in the center, where absurdity meets realism and cynicism meets compassion.  Pitched somewhere as a wry Oz meets George Cuckor's The Women, the greatest asset Kohan asserts in her series is a lack of judgement and an abundance of humanity and understanding, coupled with a pay-TV penchant for strong language and nudity.

Monday, July 15, 2013

"12 Years a Slave" Trailer Drops

"I don't want to survive...I want to live"

Perhaps all is well in movie land when provocative and daring filmmakers like Steve McQueen can manage to find financing and send off such hard-sell movies like 12 Years a Slave to the multiplex.  McQueen's third feature, following 2008's Hunger and 2011's Shame makes a bid to be his biggest and awards baitiest.  Featuring an ensemble of players including Chiwetel Ejiofor in the role of Solomon Northup, a free black man abducted into a life a slavery, McQueen muse Michael Fassbender as the Big Bad, cinema good Samaritan Brad Pitt and an always-welcome Alfre Woodard.

I'm so glad distributor Fox Searchlight decided against the original December 27th release date in favor a mid-October plan.  A provocative film like this (a rarity considering it tackles the issue of slavery through the eyes of a black filmmaker...think about that) deserves time to build and to soak itself in the cinematic unconscious, a time of which would be utterly unsuitable in the post-Christmas glut.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Weekend Box Office

We can bemoan til the end of the time that the summer movie seasons is nothing more than a cacophony of sequels and spectacles (not to mention the latest iterations of global terrorists on display for our popcorn enjoyment), and yet we bemoan as well when Hollywood has the nerve or gall to present a grandly expensive original property in the mix.  "Original" is a strange choice for words in the case of the last weekend big Disney blunder The Lone Ranger, a property that has existed for decades, as well as this weekend's offering, Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro's Transformers meets Godzilla, monsters vs. machines spectacular spectacular, but for all the franchise-in-wait question marks, both films couldn't excite audience interest more than the readily-disposable, already franchises.  Whatever the cause and whatever the effect, Despicable Me 2 again topped the box office charts this weekend, and Grown Ups 2, the latest in Adam Sandler's middle finger to cinema opened in a close runner-up showing, assuring that #3's are coming to a theater new a few summers from now.

  1. Despicable Me 2 (-46%)- $44.7 million / $229 total
  2. Grown Ups 2 (new)- $42 million- which is slightly ahead of the 2010's original, and a bright spot for distributor Sony after expensive flops After Earth and White House Down-- "bright spot" is a loose term.
  3. Pacific Rim (new)- $38.3 million- Guillermo del Toro may not yet be ready for primetime, but this will be a curious one to watch, considering it's widely all-over-the-place reception.
  4. The Heat (-43%)- $14 million / $112 million total
  5. The Lone Ranger (-61%)- $11 million / $71 million total
  6. Monsters University (-46%)- $10 million / $237 million total
  7. World War Z (-48%)- $9.4 million / $177 million total
  8. White House Down (-54%)- $6.1 million / $62 million total
  9. Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain (-50%)- $5 million / $26 million total
  10. Man of Steel (-57%)- $4 million / $280 million total

The Way, Way Back- The Fox Searchlight comedy expanded nicely in its second weekend of limited play grossing $1.1 million on 79 screens for a stellar per-screen average of $14,000.  It has now earned $1.8 million total.
Fruitvale Station- The Weinstein Company Sundance winner concerning the real life story of the murder of a young black Bay Area resident in 2009 opened as the Zimmerman trail was closing, providing a frightening, even-more-in-the-headlines sense of urgency to the from-the-headlines story.  While it's strikingly cynical, it's a story that even media shark Harvey Weinstein himself couldn't have concocted to be so eerily in-sync.  The awards hopeful had one of the years strongest per-screen averages of $53,000 on a mere seven screens, debuting to a stellar $377,000 first weekend gross, with the potential to be a counter-programming summer success story.
Crystal Fairy- Michael Cera's drug comedy, which debuted at Sundance this year, netted a $12,000 per-screen average on 2 screens.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Saving Mr. Banks trailer

The making of Mary Poppins (incidentally, the first and only picture in which Walt Disney himself earned a Best Picture Oscar nomination) is dramatized in frothy-looking fashion in the first look of John Lee Hancock's (The Blind Side) Saving Mr. Banks, which stars Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as Poppins author P.L. Travers.  On first glance, the light inside Hollywood film reads as a Hitchcock meets My Week with Marilyn shrouded in a Finding Neverland literary gloss, packaged as a Disneyland commercial.  Then again, the screenplay was featured in the 2010 Black List of the best unproduced screenplays, so perhaps the first sales pitch is deceiving to project of more heft.

Either way, Disney hopes this December release will be an awards contender on its own right.  The supporting cast includes Rachel Griffiths, Paul Giamatti, Kathy Baker and Jason Schwartzman.

"Ender's Game" Boycott

This November, Lionsgate Films will unleash Ender's Game, a big budget science fiction film based on the bestselling 1985 novel by Orson Scott Card.  Directed by Gavin Hood (the man behind X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the Academy Award winning 2005 South African film Tsotsi), the film stars Asa Buttefield (Hugo), Hailee Steinfeld, Abigal Breslin, Viola Davis and Harrison Ford and is set seventy years after a grisly alien war on Earth.  The intention, as always, is a lucrative franchise for the studio behind The Hunger Games.  But there's a controversy brewing and stirring as Geeks OUT are staging a protest to the film because of the virulently anti-gay stance of the novel's Hugo and Nebula awarding winning author, who also serves as producer on the film.  Card, a long-time critic of gay rights and vocal member of the National Organization for Marriage, was recently barred from attending the films big push at next weeks Comic-Con in San Diego, in an attempt by the studio from turning it's expensive fall movie into a larger source of debate.

Lionsgate released a statement surrounding the staged boycott of the film calling it "irrelevant."
"As proud longtime supporters of the LGBT community, champions of films ranging from Gods and Monsters to The Perks of Being a Wallflower and a company that is proud to have recognized same-sex unions and domestic partnerships within its employee benefits policies for many years, we obviously do not agree with the personal views of Orson Scott Card and those of the National Organization for Marriage. However, they are completely irrelevant to a discussion of Ender’s Game. The simple fact is that neither the underlying book nor the film itself reflect these views in any way, shape or form. On the contrary, the film not only transports viewers to an entertaining and action-filled world, but it does so with positive and inspiring characters who ultimately deliver an ennobling and life-affirming message. Lionsgate will continue its longstanding commitment to the LGBT community by exploring new ways we can support LGBT causes and, as part of this ongoing process, will host a benefit premiere for Ender’s Game."
It's that word "irrelevant" that may come to be the bothersome, especially in a statement that for the most part serves it's purpose of generating a quick and respectful mea culpa in the wake of a boycott of one of the studios biggest and most ambitious properties and in the wake of the Supreme Court's recent groundbreaking overturning of DOMA and California's Proposition 8.  Yet it also serves as another component in the idea of whether consumers are willing to overlook the personal platforms of various artists and judging artworks on their own terms, just as well on the principle of having the right to support one's convictions, which in this case (and in most cases) revolves around to whom and what one supports with their money.  It will remain to be seen what this eventually does to the outcome of the film, which opens November 1st.    

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Most Unusual One-Sheet

What do you think?

"Blue Jasmine" and the Woody Allen Oscar Game

The year was 1977.  Star Wars was the biggest hit of all time, soon to become the biggest cinematic obsession of, perhaps all time, but it was Annie Hall that won the Best Picture Academy Award for that year.  It was also Woody Allen's first Oscar win (he won for Direction, as well as Original Screenplay, for which he won with Marshall Brickman), of which, he didn't show, as would become accustom.  He has since won two more Academy Awards-- both for screenwriting, for Hannah & Her Sisters and Midnight in Paris-- in becoming the Academy's favorite screenwriter.  The awards game with Woody Allen films is a bit more hit and miss nowadays then during his prime, but further prodding shows that within his film a year since in the early 1970s, it's safe to assume that his films --> Oscar nomination ratio is one of the most durable and consistent in history.  He's also one a director with one of the very best ratios of Oscar-nominated performances.  On the heels of excellent early word on Cate Blanchett's performance in his upcoming and enticing looking Blue Jasmine, here's a look back at Allen's past Oscar triumphs.

As a preamble, out of all the acting nominations that have been bestowed for Woody Allen films, many of them are richly deserved nominees.  Nevertheless, the Academy has shown a certain reluctance to nominate perhaps arguably the greatest actor he has ever guided, his greatest muse, partner and well, things kind of didn't end well, but Musings and Stuff commends Mia Farrow, despite the fact that the AMPAS never did.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Heat

There's a formula to the buddy cop action comedy; the rules of the trade of which cannot be altered.  They are market-tested and machine-proofed and focused grouped to the hilt to which should not and will not ever be forsaken.  By design, one of these cops (usually male) must be a Type-A, controlling sort, one with a mastery of principles, but maladroit at interpersonal contact, who displays a fussiness and overbearing arrogance which presents him as difficult to work with others.  The other of these cops (again usually male), as formula dictates, must exhibit a brazen and unrefined technique at their craft, highlighted by a to-the-wind disregard of the rules and a devil may care work ethic, typically augmented by a disregard to ones personal appearance, all of which makes him, as well, difficult to work with others.  The structure and discipline of the buddy cop action comedy formula dictates that such opposing characters must work together to solve some convoluted caper, only to find themselves, with their diametrically opposed personalities, as not just grand colleagues, but great friends in the final reel.

The formula isn't turned on its head, nor re-invented in the slightest in The Heat, but it's one formidable transgression makes the film ever more watchable than nearly all the Lethal Weapons, Rush Hours and Bad Boyses combined.  For the first time, the cinemas have graced two women in the decades-perfected roles of the buddy cop action comedy formula, and through the graces of the lithe estrogen-enhanced reshuffling and recharging of the bombastic sub-genre, a little dignity is restored, for The Heat, sort of like what a R-rated, George Cukor-directed version of Lethal Weapon might look like, is at long last the female action comedy that men have taken for granted for such a long time.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Box Office Fireworks

The minions outlawed The Lone Ranger over the grandly profitable Fourth of July week/end extravaganza.  The story isn't so much that it was surprising that Despicable Me 2, the sequel to 3-D animated 2010 hit, led the box office with such robust numbers, it's that Disney's overly expensive $215+ Ranger utterly failed.  Badgered by bad buzz that stems from while the film was still in production, deadly reviews, Armie Hammer's lack of movie star charisma and Johnny Depp ennui, the Gore Verbinski directed western based on the radio and television classic that nobody under forty has the faintest clue of, has taken the summer movie season's preeminent punchline prize from past bombs After Earth and White House Down.  That sounds harsh, but there's a valuable comeuppance that needs to be bridged from time to time when studios shell out hundreds of millions of dollars on wannabe franchises that nobody wanted to begin with.

  1. Despicable Me 2- $82.5 / $142.0 total (new)
  2. The Lone Ranger- $29.4 / $48.9 total (new)
  3. The Heat- $25.0 / $86.3 total
  4. Monsters University- $19.5 / 216.7 total
  5. World War Z- $18.2 / $158.7 total
  6. White House Down- $13.5 / $50.4 total
  7. Man of Steel- $11.4 / $271.2 total
  8. Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain- $10.1 / $174 total (new)
  9. This Is the End- $5.8 / $85.5 total
  10. Now You See Me- $2.7 / $110.4 total
  11. Star Trek Into Darkness- $1.3 / $223.0 total
  12. Fast & Furious 6- $1.0 / $235.4 total

Fox Searchlight's Sundance success story led the limited engagements this holiday weekend with The Way, Way Back netting a $30,000 per screen average in its first weekend of play.  The dramedy stars Steve Carell (whose had a pretty stellar week), Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell and newcomer Liam James and was written and directed by Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, Oscar-winning screenwriters of The Descendants.  In other news, 20 Feet From Stardom, a documentary centered on back-up singers, expanded nicely in its second week and will be one of the highest grossing docs of the year, surely, and a potential Oscar candidate thanks to its glowing reviews, while Before Midnight officially became the top-grossing film in the series, topping the $5.8 million that Before Sunset earned in 2004.

The Way, Way Back- $0.5 (new)
Before Midnight- $0.5 / $6.6 total
20 Feet From Stardom- $0.5 / $1.1 total
Much Ado About Nothing- $0.4 / $2.9 total
The Bling Ring- $0.3 / $5.0 total
Mud- $0.1 / $20.7 total
I'm So Excited- $0.1 / $0.3 total
Frances Ha- $0.1 / $3.6 total
The Kings of Summer- $0.09 / $1.0 total
Stories We Tell- $0.04 / $1.4 total

2013: Halfway Report

The first half of 2013 is completed.  What has it brought upon the cinematic landscape?  Here's the unscientific Musings and Stuff compendium on what the first half of the year has brought.  I've viewed 39 films thus far and here's my take.

Here's the trashiest of the trashy of the first half of the years cinematic offerings. 

To the Wonder

21 and Over (review)
Gangster Squad (review)
A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III (review)
A Good Day to Die Hard (review)
Identity Thief (review)
Iron Man 3 (review)
Movie 43 (review)
Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor (review)
To the Wonder (review) or "To the Pretentious Pits of Cinematic Hell"
Trance (review)
Upside Down- a forgettable and nearly pointless romantic science fiction art film featuring wan, bored performances by Kirsten Dunst and Jim Sturges as star crossed lovers in an upstairs/downstairs parallel universe of the haves and have-nots.  As a tagline it might appear to be CW version of this summers upcoming Elysium.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

And So It Begins...

So sinister that sounds...
Deadline reports that Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron's ambitious and hotly anticipated 3-D science fiction thriller, will open (albeit out of competition) the 70th Venice Film Festival.  The film stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney and debuted a startling teaser trailer a few months back.  Venice is a part of the trifecta of the early fall festival spree that starts to announce and gauge the beginning of the awards season-- the other two being Telluride and Toronto, all which occur nearly concurrently.  Cuaron has a history with Venice, which makes this announcement not so surprising.  Y Tu Mama Tambien, his wonderful 2001 sexual coming of age film won the screenplay prize that year.  He also took his last film, Children of Men to Venice in 2006, which won a special prize for Emmuanuel Lubezki's Oscar-nominated cinematography.  Gravity holds as an awards hopeful for Warner Bros. this year and potentially may boast a significant performance from Bullock, who based on early reports, is the only one on screen for the majority of the feature.  The Venice Film Festival will begin August 28th.  Let the games begin...


At one point positioned as an awards hopeful before it's gala screening at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival appointed it a dud, Butter, a cheap social satire designed to alienate and awe as surmised a big ugly and hypocritical world amidst the most benign of subject matters, was quietly shuttled to an early fall 2012 release free of buzz or attention by The Weinstein Company.  From the czar that is Harvey, it would appear business as usual, and under normal circumstances, I would object to the scuttling and left to rot corpse of a film that on the surface had the easy comfort food of big name talent.  I may have been, however, the most sensitive thing to do since the film itself is a rotting corpse itself.  However it came to be, and in whatever the shape the script (by Jason A. Micallef) might have been at one time-- there must have been something to it to attract the top level actors did-- Butter on the onset, firstly and foremost comes across severely neutered, but nonsensically vulgar, an awful mix of satire at it's most unrefined, queasily developed and visually amateurish.

Micallef and director Jim Field Smith (She's Out of My League) take the bizarrely niche subject of a Midwestern butter carving competition as the staple for their Election-like satire on the nubs of humanity, distilling enough stale red state condensation to make even the most sternest liberal cry uncle.  Jennifer Garner plays Laura Pickler, scheming social climber and near royalty in her small Iowa farm town where her husband Bob (Ty Burrell, Modern Family) is the butter carving king.  Garner enriches her all-American hellion with a thick Sarah Palin-like cadence and an arsenal of haughty glares-- her performance is flat, but the film doesn't give her much to do than tiredly meld together Reese Witherspoon's Tracy Flick and Annette Bening's Carolyn Burnham, hoping that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  When Bob's tenure all butter king is tossed aside from political pressure from above, Laura decides it upon herself to keep the Pickler name alive.  Never mind the little item that Bob has just pissed off a stripper/prostitute (gamely played by Olivia Wilde)-- the Picklers are America routine is what's paramount.  Laura's competition comes in the form of a naturally talented butter sculptor, a grade school aged African American foster child named Destiny (Yara Shahidi)-- allusions to Laura's Palin-esque need for the spotlight and Destiny's Obama-esque idealism the closest Butter gets to thematic subtlety.  Along for the ride are Hugh Jackman as a dimwit used car salesman and Rob Corddry and Alicia Silverstone as Destiny's liberal adoptive parents.

The ugly and fatal flaw of Butter is that it assumes that by nearly name-checking and trying to associate itself tonally with films like Election, American Beauty and Best in Show, then half the job is done with.  Yet ultimately the film is as desperate as Laura Pickler herself in that it's all bite and zero substance and despite the very R-rated, pushed up dialogue for the sole use of shock value, it stalls to a thrashing thud.  Harvey's decision to quietly bury this nasty and spineless little movie turned out to be the most humane one.  F

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Boxtrolls Teaser

Stop motion animation may never be everyone's cup of tea, or break box office records, but the magicians at Laika are on a steady streak following the artistic and Academy Award nominated success stories of Coraline and ParaNorman.  Here comes the teaser to their next hopeful pleasure, The Boxtrolls.  Set for release in the fall of 2014, The Boxtrolls is about a young orphan boy raised by underground cave-dwelling trash collectors.  Directed by Anthony Stacchi and Graham Annable and featuring the voice talent of Elle Fanning, Simon Pegg, Toni Collette, Nick Frost, Ben Kingsley and Tracy Morgan.

On an even more upbeat note, especially on the heels of the overwhelmingly gay friendly ParaNorman, this teaser makes a nice little inclusive bid to the Supreme Court's recent decisions.  This offbeat teaser is a winner.

The 10 Most Awesome New Members of the Academy

The Academy recently invited 276 new members to join in the annual circus of voting for the Oscars.  In a striking move, AMPAS seems to be making an effort to listen to the many critics of the membership and the eventual types of movies that appear on the lists year after year as examples of "the best" of the year.  The invitations have been sent, and while we will be unaware to who will eventually accept, here's the most awesome.  And while it's cool that the director of Fantastic Four and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants were invited to the club, those names will not appear on this list.

Jeff Nichols
runners-up: Emily Mortimer (actror)-- and a lovely one that as films as varied as Lovely & Amazing, Shutter Island, Match Point and Young Adam can attest. ~ Jason Schwartzman (actor)-- eclectic actor and member of the Coppola dynasty; star of Rushmore and I Heart Huckabees. ~ Kimberly Elise (actor)-- gifted actress of For Colored Girls and Beloved fame, and far worthier than the typical roles she's been granted.  ~ Emmanuelle Riva (actor)-- beloved French actress and should have been recent Oscar-winner for Amour.  ~ Ava DuVernay (writer/director)-- gifted filmmaker who made a huge wave with last fall's indie hit Middle of Nowhere.  ~ Jeff Nichols (writer/director)-- director of Take Shelter and Mud, surely to be an Oscar contender hopes.  ~ Cliff Martinez (composer)-- in demand cool composer for films as varied as Drive, Contagion, Traffic and the soon to be released Only God Forgives; never Oscar-nominated.

10. GREIG FRASER (cinematography branch)
Infinitely gifted director of photography whose been on the rise since lensing Jane Campion's Bright Star (2009.)  2012 proved a banner year with expert, frame-worthy work on films as varied as Zero Dark Thirty, Snow White & the Huntsman and Killing Them Softly.  Next up is Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher.  Fraser has never been nominated for an Oscar but hopefully as a member that might help his chances.

9. JAFAR PANAHI (documentary branch)
This Is Not a Film, Panahi's impassioned protest documentary was an avid indictment for the importance of the art form.  The film, shot in Panahi's native Iran, was done in secret and made illegally capturing the filmmakers house arrest after being persecuted for his art by the Iranian government.  Shot partly on an iPhone and smuggled out the country in a cake, the fact that exists at all is worthy enough to affirm AMPAS membership; that the film was eventually shortlisted for an Oscar nomination was something short of miraculous.

Benh Zeitlin
8. BENH ZEITLIN (directors branch)
Whatever becomes of the Beasts of the Southern Wild filmmaker, his legend is certainly already cemented with the glorious Cinderella story of his breakout film and what it stand for.  In the ever harsh movie-making climate of contemporary cinema, Zeitlin went out in the trenches and made a film with a shoestring budget and it turned into one of the most magical, original and epic splices of filmmaking in years.  Beasts is a totem for the modern independent film movement and Zeitlin deserves a free pass at his stab, as well as an Academy membership-- I'd be curious to see his picks for sure.

7. RIAN JOHNSON (directors branch)
Brick and The Brothers Bloom introduced a quirky new filmmaker to the modern indie landscape, one who showcased an expert sleight of hand in meshing and mashing genres.  Last years Looper established Johnson as a filmmaker capable of upping the ante on terms of budget and scale without losing any wit, insight or ambition-- in truth this a filmmaker who should be at the top of every studios list for directing their tentpoles.  Or really directing anything for that matter.  He deserved at the very least a writers nod for Looper just last year.

6. JULIE DELPY (actors branch)
Nominated in 2004 for co-writing the screenplay of Before Sunset (with Richard Linklater and Ethan Hawke), Delpy might find herself an Oscar contender this year for her performance in Before Midnight, but aside from the wondrous trilogy for which she has been a part of for the better part of the last twenty years, she's proven herself and delectable talent on and off screen as an director, writer and actor.

5. STEVE McQUEEN (directors branch)
Hunger and Shame were both inexplicably shut out from the Academy-- in truth it was expected, but still...not cool.  However McQueen has proven to be on the most interesting and provocative filmmakers in recent years-- his films may be tough, but they are also incredibly artful and substantial.  If nothing else, this fall's 12 Years a Slave will prove his highest profile release to date, as well as this richly deserved invitation to the Academy.

4. AGNÉS VARDA (documentary branch)
The iconoclast French New Wave member is one of the "how the hell is she not a member yet" invitees this year.  However, it's better late than never-- which may also explain why she's never received an Oscar nomination either despite beautiful work with recent films like The Gleaners & I and The Beaches of Agnés and old classics like Cleo From 5 to 7.

3. SARAH POLLEY (writers branch)
The multi-talented Polley, whose most recent work Stories We Tell is currently a must see in specialized theaters around the country, is a most splendid choice, even if the invitation is years overdue-- this talented actress, writer, director made her breakout in 1997's The Sweet Hereafter, a hit with the Academy, even if Polley herself was snubbed.  She wasn't snubbed for her writing effort for her debut feature film Away From Her, and is a strong possibility for a nomination for Stories We Tell.  Well done and finally, she is freaking awesome!

Sarah Polley
2. PRINCE (music branch)
Just he's an Oscar winner for Purple Rain.

1. MATT GROENING (animation branch)
Best. Invitee. Ever.  

Monday, July 1, 2013

10 Best Performances of 2013 (So Far)

We have arrived at the halfway point of 2013.  What has the cinema offered us so far?  In the first part of a multi-part retrospective, here are my favorite performances of the year so far.

Runners-up:  Benedict Cumberbatch, Star Trek Into Darkness; Henry Cavill, Man of Steel; James Franco, Spring Breakers; Mia Wasikowski, Stoker; Michael Cera, This Is the End

10) Ryan Gosling, The Place Beyond the Pines
Gosling and filmmaker Derek Cianfrance cobbled together some kind of alchemy in Blue Valentine in 2010 (with a little bit of help from Michelle Williams, in an Oscar-nominated performance.)  The sharpest instinct Cianfrance exhibited with his grander, messier follow-up work was reuniting with the resourceful Gosling.  In a film that ultimately bites off more than it's able to chew, the ingenious performer proves to be the best part of this ambitious triptych melodrama about fathers and sons and the overbearing consequences of ones past and upbringing.  Gosling's Luke is a rebel outcast in the mold of an old school antihero-- James Dean or Marlon Brando might have played this part had Place been made in the 1950s-- and yet despite the endless look of cool and mystique so fetishistically photographed by Cianfrance, Gosling shades his Robin Hood-like character with a brimming and soulful yearning.  Luke is the first part of The Place Beyond the Pines, and without spoiling anything, once he disappears, the film starts to crumble.

9) Mickey Sumner, Frances Ha
The ugly sting of nepotism rings a dampening effect to a budding young performer, a nearly contemptuous sneer at times.  However, sometimes a performance and film is so radiant and so effortlessly lived-in that in the private sanctuary of a movie palace, you can forget the entire world outside.  It needn't be necessary to know that Sumner is the offspring of Sting and Trudie Styler, and the film that surrounds her richly comic and well observed supporting turn, Frances Ha, is strong enough to make you forget nearly anything that ales.  As Sophie, Frances' BFF through the scary jungle of contemporary New York ennui, Sumner is sarcastic and ironic, sardonic, but also a lovesick dreamer.  To play such contradictory notes without ever falling into caricature is a testament to a hopefully inspired new artist; to turn them is something that's nearly moving is something even more special.

8) Jude Law, Side Effects
If Steven Soderbergh's retirement from the movies is in fact deemed true, at the very least, one can say, he went out with a hell of a year.  Surely, it will be HBO's Behind the Candelabra that will be the one to net the most trophies and esteemed hosannas, but his year began with the tight and delightfully warped little noir called Side Effects that just as effectively imbued all the skills that have complemented Soderbergh's career.  The first and most glaring compliment must be his work his actors, and in that regard, Jude Law's lithe and menacingly playful performance as slippery doctor who may or may not be being duped is worthy in it of itself of more acclaim than it will likely ever receive.  Law, it appears, may be on the upswing with surprisingly fruitful performances in not just Side Effects, but also last fall's anemic Anna Karenina, and his performance here is easily his most awake, alert and sharply keyed in than the actor has been since his career peak period that ascended in The Talented Mr. Ripley and swayed as Gigolo Joe in A.I. Artificial Intelligence.

7) Alden Ehrenreich, Beautiful Creatures
It was supposed to a silly little movie made in an attempt to cash in on the young adult star-crossed lovers/occult phase-- in short it was merely supposed to be a rip off of Twilight, and yet it somehow became 2013's most inexplicably ignored film critically and commercially.  Richard LaGravenese's Beautiful Creatures somehow, under some set of only-in-the-movies sort of magic is a gleefully underrated and joyous oddball of a movie about the teenage romance between a mortal boy and a witch.  Sounds pretty dull, but the writing, playful visuals and the potent performances that are sharp as a tick, but forever realizing what indeed this material really is make it one of the more pleasant surprises of the year.  Leading actor Alden Ehrenreich is perhaps the biggest surprise of all as the lovelorn Ethan Wade, a melding together of jock and nerd boy next door, he proves a charming leading man with a hopefully fruitful career ahead of him.  His performance here would blow Robert Pattinson and all the other mimics well away. 

6) Elle Fanning, Ginger & Rosa 
Elle Fanning, younger sister of Dakota, has for years been somewhat trapped in the doomed muse-like role for her leading men.  Sure, in films like Super 8 and Somewhere, Fanning had a captivating hold over the audience, but the characters themselves were used as little more than to serve her male co-stars.  Ginger & Rosa, a blink-and-you've-missed-it independent drama released this past spring gave Fanning the sharpest character she's yet to play, and the performer took to it with the natural precision of a gifted surgeon, even acquiring a believable British accent to boot.  As the rebellious young girl raised by a prim and conservative mother in the 1960s, Fanning shows incomparable diction and poise. 

5) Matthew McConaughey, Mud
Whatever happened in the last two years or so in the life of Matthew McConaughey, it was apparently and abundantly worth it.  For this sudden and startling period of productively in the career of the one-time nude-banjo-player is as surprising as any third act twist.  Mud, Jeff Nichols' follow-up to Take Shelter, made its inauspicious premiere at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and left the stew for nearly a year before making its way to American movie houses.  The surprise (or perhaps not after the year the performer has having) was McConaughey's richly nuanced and beatifically observed performances as the titular Mud, a fugitive forever dreaming for a better life with the troubled girl whom he loves.  Nichols' film takes a few missteps along the way, and concludes as an utterly contrived yarn, but McConaughey's steely gaze and reserve is unsettling, sympathetic and in sharp command.

4) Gael Garcia Bernal, No
The invaluable Bernal has made a wondrous journeyman career for himself working alongside filmmakers as varied and vibrant as Michel Gondry, Pedro Almodovar, Alfonso Cuaron, Walter Salles and Alejandro González Inárritu and yet imbuing a rich, quiet humanity carried over every genre and tone.  With Pablo Larraín's bold and enriching No, Bernal has clearly and authoritatively honed in on his gift for the title of leading man with the most humility and compassion for his projects and characters.  There's never a false note in the complex and beautifully engrossing performance, nor a stance for side-swipping showboating-- every tic, manner and line reading in the service of this most superior film and while his most compelling humanistic approach to his characters may never give this exceptional performer the awards or plaudits he richly deserves, it's a novel and engrossing detail that has made Bernal one of the finest actors of his generation.

3) Nicole Kidman, Stoker
Chan-wook Park's English-language debut was a mixed bag of a film, but the biggest and most reassuring highlight was the beaut and hoot and a half of the performance that Kidman delivered.  She spends the majority of the film sidelined in her own little chamber piece of play-- a sort of lost Tennessee Williams heroine, but in the final moments unleashes a giddy showcase of maternal hell that frankly the subdued hothouse of a chiller needed a bit more of.  Kidman's ravenous contempt and rage all quivers to the seems in a chilling last-minute monologue that gives the chameleon actress finally something to chew on, and settles the film with a tasty bit of naughtiness.

2) Elizabeth Debicki, The Great Gatsby
Baz Luhrmann's lurid and colorful retelling of The Great Gatsby was supposed to the ultimate cinematic staging for the doomed star-crossed lovers Jay and Daisy, played here by Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan.  However it was newcomer Debicki as the supporting player Jordan Baker who ran away with the best in show honors, not because Luhrmann showcased or particularly upped the impact of the role, but because Debicki brought a stylized charm and grace to the one-note acting proceedings, adding notes and abundant flair to her side-lined character.

1) Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha
My favorite film so far in 2013 also featured my favorite performance from the year so far, a caveat I'm fairly certain isn't going to change much come six months from now.  The two are most certainly connected as Gerwig is Frances and Frances is Gerwig, a wonderful melding of actor and character and character and film.  With this, it brings a bit of sadness that Gerwig is likely unlikely not going to a favorite for a leading actress Oscar nomination come winter, and may even be but a longshot for the Indie Spirits, but in my book her joyous, witty and beguilingly profound creation is worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize for its brute honesty and natural joie de vivre.

What are your favorite performances from the first six months of 2013?    
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