2013 Year End Movie Review: Jason Zingale

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If you haven’t been to the movie theater over the past few months, you’d be forgiven for thinking that 2013 wasn’t a very good year for film. In fact, my own year-end list was looking pretty suspect before October, but as is usually the case, the awards season blitz was jam-packed with enough great movies to fill more than the customary ten spots. That made compiling this year’s best-of list a little more challenging than in years past, especially with so many popular choices relegated to honorable mentions or missing entirely. With that said, after much deliberating, flip-flopping and even revisiting certain films, the following represents what I believe to be the best of 2013.

Best Movies of 2013

1. “GRAVITY

It’s been six years since Alfonso Cuarón’s last feature film – the criminally underrated “Children of Men” – but his outer space survival thriller was well worth the wait. “Gravity” is the kind of movie that will likely change the way films are made in the future. From the stunning, single-take opening sequence that lasts more than 12 minutes, to the numerous set pieces throughout, “Gravity” is such a technical marvel that it looks like Cuarón shot the whole damn thing in space. Though the story is ridiculously simple, not a single second of its 91-minute runtime is wasted, extracting so much suspense from the film’s terrifying setup that the brief injections of comedy (courtesy of George Clooney’s easygoing astronaut) are a welcome reprieve from the almost unrelenting intensity. Sandra Bullock delivers one of the best performances of her career as the rookie astronaut caught up in a seemingly impossible situation, but the real star of “Gravity” is Cuarón himself, and he deserves every bit of praise for creating what can only be described as pure movie magic.

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2. “AMERICAN HUSTLE

David O. Russell has always been a quality filmmaker, but he’s quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with thanks to movies like “The Fighter,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and this farcical con-artist caper. Loosely based on the ABSCAM scandal of the late ‘70s, “American Hustle” is immensely entertaining, impeccably structured and features top-notch acting from the entire cast. Forty pounds heavier and rocking the most elaborate comb-over you’ve ever seen, Christian Bale gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as the straight man of the bunch. His co-stars aren’t quite as committed physically, but they’re just as good. Amy Adams oozes sexiness as Bale’s cunning partner in crime, scene stealer Jennifer Lawrence is an absolute riot as his unpredictable wife, and Bradley Cooper is hilarious as the short-tempered FBI agent in charge of the sting. The whole film is a lot funnier than you’d expect due to Russell and Eric Singer’s darkly comic script, and though some have argued that it’s too long, the characters are so richly developed and crackling with personality that I would have gladly spent another hour in their messed-up world.

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3. “ABOUT TIME

Richard Curtis has written and directed some of the greatest romantic comedies of the past two decades, so it should come as no surprise that his latest movie follows in the same footsteps. Curtis’ films have always been about much more than the superficial meet-cute between boy and girl, and “About Time” is no different, aiming for something a lot deeper and more emotionally rewarding than the typical rom-com. Breakout star Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams have some fantastic chemistry, but it’s the relationship between Gleeson and Bill Nighy (playing the world’s coolest dad) that best serves the story’s central themes and leaves a more lasting impression, especially for anyone who’s ever lost a member of their family. Equally charming, funny and touching, “About Time” is classic Richard Curtis, through and through. And if the rumors about it being his directorial swan song are true, Curtis can take comfort in knowing that he went out on top, because this is not only his most mature and personal work to date, but it’s just a really beautiful film.

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Movie Review: “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”

Starring
Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci
Director
Francis Lawrence

As far as book sequels go, “Catching Fire” isn’t exactly the most original. It’s like the “Evil Dead 2” of YA literature – a sort of ‘take two’ on the first novel that’s bigger and better, but not profoundly different. My lukewarm reaction to the second installment in Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games” trilogy is almost completely due to that reason alone, because the concept feels more like a lazy rehash than a continuation of the story, although curiously, that isn’t the case with the film adaptation. Under the assured direction of Francis Lawrence (stepping in for the departing Gary Ross), “Catching Fire” doesn’t just improve upon Collins’ book, but the first movie as well.

After returning home as joint victor of the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) finds it difficult readapting to her life in District 12, haunted by the events that took place inside the Arena. While on a victory tour across Panem, Katniss witnesses the unrest that’s begun to spread across the districts as a result of her highly publicized stunt, and recognizing the danger that a potential rebellion poses, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) enlists the help of Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to devise a plan to eliminate Katniss once and for all. So when it comes time for the 75th edition of the Games (a quarter century celebration that adds a special twist to the normal rules), Snow announces that this year’s tributes will be selected from the pool of previous victors. As the only female survivor from District 12, Katniss is forced to participate in the Hunger Games once again along with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who volunteers in place of Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), only to discover that they have some unlikely allies watching their backs.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to November

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Last month may have been pretty uncharacteristic with the quality of films on display, featuring several Best Picture contenders, but if you thought that it would somehow affect the November release slate, think again. Though audiences will sadly have to wait a little longer to see Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” after the director failed to meet the original date, there are still plenty of great movies on tap, including a few award hopefuls, a pair of blockbuster sequels and more.

“ENDER’S GAME”

Who: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld and Ben Kingsley
What: The International Military recruits and trains a brilliant young boy named Ender Wiggin to lead his fellow soldiers against an alien attack.
When: November 1st
Why: Though “Ender’s Game” has been mired in controversy due to author Orson Scott Card’s recent anti-gay marriage rant, the fact of the matter is that his opinions have nothing to do with the actual movie. Of course, that’s not to say that the film still isn’t fighting an uphill battle. Director Gavin Hood has some making up to do after the disappointment of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” but despite some concerns from fans, this big screen adaptation of the beloved sci-fi novel (previously thought to be unfilmable) looks like it could be his ticket to redemption. While it’s surprising that he’d follow up “Wolverine” with another effects-heavy film, it shows that Hood is adamant about proving his critics wrong. And with actors like Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley and Viola Davis in supporting roles, he certainly has the right tools to do just that.

“LAST VEGAS”

Who: Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline
What: Three sixty-something friends take a break from their day-to-day lives to throw a bachelor party in Las Vegas for their last remaining single pal.
When: November 1st
Why: A lot of people are already referring to “Last Vegas” as the geriatric version of “The Hangover,” but apparently, Dan Fogelman’s script was floating around Hollywood years before the Todd Phillips comedy became a box office hit. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine that the success of the “Hangover” films didn’t play some part in getting the movie greenlit, and as goofy as the concept sounds (expect plenty of cheap jokes at the expense of its elderly characters), it actually looks pretty fun. The fact that director Jon Turteltaub was able to recruit such accomplished actors like De Niro, Douglas, Freeman and Kline (the latter of whom we haven’t seen much of recently) only helps sell the comedy even more, because if we’re going to watch four old guys make fools of themselves, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better quartet.

“ABOUT TIME”

Who: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy and Lydia Wilson
What: At the age of 21, Tim discovers he can time travel. His decision to make his world a better place by getting a girlfriend turns out not to be as easy as you might think.
When: November 1st
Why: Richard Curtis is responsible for making my favorite romantic comedy of all-time (“Love, Actually”), so to say that I’m excited about his latest (and hopefully not last, if reports are to be believed) directorial effort is a bit of an understatement. For starters, it’s a brilliant approach to the time travel gimmick, eschewing all the usual sci-fi mumbo jumbo in place of a simpler explanation, which allows Curtis to focus on the characters instead of getting wrapped up in the how of Tim’s magical ability. The father/son storyline also appears to be more important than the trailers suggest, and between rising star Domhnall Gleeson and the always dependable Bill Nighy, it’s that relationship (and not the one between Gleeson and Rachel McAdams) that will likely provide the careful balance of laughter and tears that Curtis has perfected so well.

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