Movies of 2013

Movies that I've seen in 2013 ranked from best to worst.
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1.
The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
A motorcycle stunt rider turns to robbing banks as a way to provide for his lover and their newborn child, a decision that puts him on a collision course with an ambitious rookie cop navigating a department ruled by a corrupt detective. (140 mins.)
“ Centered around the lives of two men and their sons over the course of fifteen years in Schenectady, New York, Derek ‘Cianfrance is Believin’ France’ Cianfrance’s ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ will go down as the most ambitious film of the year when 2013 comes to a close. Its main fault is that it should have been longer in order to add more detail to its characters and stories, but as it stands, it still feels undeniably epic. The tackling of themes like fate and fatherhood resonate powerfully with the viewer, and its devastingly emotional drama makes it an incredible, totally rewarding experience. The successes of ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ can be measured in Cianfrance’s willingness to take risks while simaltaneously avoiding pretension. It would seem at first as though he’s got too much on his plate and should narrow his scope, but in fact, it’s quite the opposite. He isn’t showy with his storytelling and his characters all feel decidedly human. By the end, you’re left wanting more. Yes, ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ is a little too ambitious for its running time, but, in a way, that’s what makes it so phenomenal. Rarely have I been moved so much by a single film.

9.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
2.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. (104 mins.)
“ The Coens are masters of melancholia. 'Inside Llewyn Davis' isn’t their most cynical effort – an honor which shall be forever bestowed upon 'No Country' - but it is their most miserable. (You might even go so far as to say that it ‘strikes a chord,’ but, of course, you would abruptly be shot in the face after doing so.) It chronicles a week in the life of Llewyn Davis, a struggling folk singer who can never seem to catch a break. Few things work out in his favor. His life is a series of bad choices, repeated mistakes and having to settle for whatever is more convenient. As Carey Mulligan’s Jean so aptly puts it, everything he touches turns to *beep* I’m sure that 'Inside Llewyn Davis' is a bottomless pool for philosophical analysis, but seeing as I haven’t dusted up on my Nietzsche in ever, I can’t comment on it in that regard. However, I will say that it has lingered in the back of my mind for hours upon hours now, haunting the halls of my brain like the ghost of some despondent traveler, urging me to re-consider every move I make. It is much too bleak of a film for mainstream audiences to embrace with open arms, but I for one was entranced by its coldness, its irony, its black humor, its poignancy and its episodic-yet-cohesive narrative. Any complaints I have I can’t think of right this instant.

Plus, Oscar Isaac is the man. The man.

9.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
3.
Nebraska (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize. (115 mins.)
Director: Alexander Payne
“ 'Nebraska' further cements Alexander Payne’s status as perhaps this generation’s greatest American filmmaker. He started in satire with 'Citizen Ruth' and 'Election,' but the gradual shift to thoughtful, character-centered dramedies has become more and more evident over the years, and there isn’t a film of his that hasn't left some sort of impression on me. In 'Nebraska,' Bruce Dern is in excellent form (as if we expected anything less), but the real surprise and standout is Will Forte, who hits just about every right note imaginable with his understated turn as a down-to-earth guy simply trying to get closer to his dad.

This is such an easy, overused concept, yet Payne works wonders with it. He can tug on your heartstrings without being manipulative, without being contrived or cliché, and get you to well up like a geyser. He can turn a single shot a woman singing karaoke into one of the single funniest scenarios of last year. (Also, the scene where Woody’s brothers discuss cars had me in stitches.) Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that screenwriter Bob Nelson played a rather large part in conjuring up all of this hilarity as well. Alexander Payne might also be the most taken-for-granted filmmaker working today. Sure, his work lacks the visual splendor, unbridled ‘in your face’ intensity or technical showmanship of the modern blockbuster, sci-fi thriller, etc., but there’s always so much going on underneath the surface. I am consistently surprised by how many nerves he manages to touch with just a single film, and I find myself revisiting his filmography more often as time goes passing by.

9.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
4.
Prisoners (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
When Keller Dover's daughter and her friend go missing, he takes matters into his own hands as the police pursue multiple leads and the pressure mounts. But just how far will this desperate father go to protect his family? (153 mins.)
“ I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that ‘Prisoners’ feels like a David Fincher film, specifically ‘Zodiac’ and ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.’ Maybe that’s setting expectations too high, but then again, I’m not sure it is because frankly, in terms of quality, ‘Prisoners’ falls in somewhere right between the two. An unsettling, suspenseful, absorbing, bleakly-lensed crime drama, ‘Prisoners’ moves at a thoughtful, almost aggravatingly deliberate pace that keeps the clues and twists coming but doesn’t bother to let us in on what’s going on until we’re more than halfway in. It is a film about moral dilemma; about evil manifesting itself in those who try their best to vanquish it. More often than not, films with such cumbersome thematic material end up coming across as preachy or heavy-handed, but ‘Prisoners’ doesn’t and manages to navigate its labyrinth-like narrative without being crushed under the weight of its subject matter. As well, the performances, the cinematography, the writing, the direction – it’s all there and in pristine condition. ‘Prisoners’ is very much first-rate entertainment, and films like it are the reasons why I love cinema so much.

9.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
5.
The Spectacular Now (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
A hard-partying high school senior's philosophy on life changes when he meets the not-so-typical "nice girl." (95 mins.)
Director: James Ponsoldt
“ I might be going out on a limb here, but 'The Spectacular Now' is perhaps the best teenage romance/coming-of-age film I think I’ve ever seen. Of course, I haven’t seen a lot of them and I don’t remember most of the ones that I have seen, but what I’m really trying to say is that 'The Spectacular Now' is just a really, truly great film. Most probably perceive it as a chick flick, which is most certainly isn’t. It is a film of tenderness, truth, reality and beauty, and it speaks to people of all ages. Few onscreen romances have been depicted with as much depth and realism, and few have been more interesting or involving. But aside from its central romance, 'The Spectacular Now' is about growing up and learning to face adulthood, and that is precisely why it appeals to such a large audience. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are phenomenal, and that’s pretty much all I have to say about that.

8.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
6.
Frances Ha (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
A story that follows a New York woman (who doesn't really have an apartment), apprentices for a dance company (though she's not really a dancer), and throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as their possibility dwindles. (86 mins.)
Director: Noah Baumbach
“ Imagine Jim Jarmusch halted his current output of pseudo-intellectual humdrum, went back to making those lovably quaint, minimalist dramedies he did in the 1980s, narrowed his scope down to just one character, and made that character a twenty-something year old dancer whose ambition outweighs her talent. He would have made 'Frances Ha' had the aforementioned scenario actually happened. And that’s probably why I love it so much. Because it reminds me of 80s Jarmusch. And let’s face it, very few things are better than 80s Jarmusch. Maybe, like, ten things. Or eleven.

I love how Frances is such a consistently happy character, even though nothing positive really happens over the course of the film. She’s broke. Her best friend moves to Japan with her fiance, leaving her homeless. She doesn’t get the dancing job she wanted, leaving her even more broke. She’s impulsive. She’s, in parts, irritating. She’s a semi-compulsive liar. And yet she’s relatable, likable, funny, beautiful and one of my favorite characters. God bless Greta Gerwig.

8.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
7.
Before Midnight (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
We meet Jesse and Celine nine years on in Greece. Almost two decades have passed since their first meeting on that train bound for Vienna. (109 mins.)
“ 8.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
8.
Blue Jasmine (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
A New York socialite, deeply troubled and in denial, arrives in San Francisco to impose upon her sister. She looks a million, but isn't bringing money, peace, or love... (98 mins.)
Director: Woody Allen
“ Even die-hard Woody Allen fans such as myself have come to accept the fact that his work of late has been a bit of a mixed bag, but even the best of filmmakers have a few flops every once in a while. After ‘To Rome with Love’ was met with mixed reviews, skeptics began citing his recent success ‘Midnight in Paris’ as a rare stroke of good luck in a series of mistakes and his work was back on the decline, even though he was fresh off of an Oscar win. Well, rejoice, Woody Allen fans, because it seems as though the director is here to stay. ‘Blue Jasmine’ is his best work since ‘Match Point’ and possibly even ‘Manhattan Murder Mystery,’ which is saying something. The film revolves around insolent, self-centered debutante Jasmine, who is forced to relocate to San Francisco to live with her sister after her wealthy financier of a husband is imprisoned for committing fraud, and her inability to cope with the cards that fate has dealt her. Allen has always had a gift for making funny, personal films that are as bitter as they are touching, and he achieves a perfect balance of the two here, but what really makes 'Blue Jasmine' the film that it is is Cate Blanchett. Character studies require an actor that can hold our attention for the entirety of the film, and Blanchett does just that, turning the arrogant, impossible-to-like Jasmine into a strangely sympathetic character. ‘Blue Jasmine’ has the lighthearted charm of a traditional Woody Allen film albeit with a much darker subtext, and it’s the director’s finest work in years.

8.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
9.
Captain Phillips (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the U.S.-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years. (134 mins.)
Director: Paul Greengrass
“ Hollywood filmmakers seem to have all but forgotten that tripods still exist. Nine out of every ten films released nowadays overuse the ‘restless camerawork’ technique in an effort to be realistic, and it can end up being quite distracting. ('The Hunger Games' is a prime example.) There are only a select few directors out there that know how to effectively employ shaky cam, and Paul Greengrass is one of them. He manages to make you feel as though you’re right there in the action, and never does it seem as though he’s straining for realism.

'Captain Phillips' is a perfect fit for Greengrass’ intense directorial style, and it’s hard to imagine anyone other than him handling the project. The film itself isn’t anything fresh or utterly remarkable, but it is technically polished and exciting and well-acted. Tom Hanks is much like James Stewart in the way that it’s hard not to root for him, no matter what character he’s playing. Because of this, he was perhaps the best choice for Captain Richard Phillips. We’re not given much insight into the titular character, but Hanks makes up for it with what he brings to the table. It’s a fantastic performance.

8.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
10.
12 Years a Slave (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. (134 mins.)
Director: Steve McQueen
“ One might have guessed that Steve McQueen was bound to tackle the subject of slavery sooner or later. Honestly, I’m surprised he did it so early in his career. 'Hunger' and 'Shame' are both uncomfortable, emotionally-bruising films that are equally difficult to watch, yet they are also works of visual elegance. (McQueen worked as a photographer before becoming a filmmaker, so go figure.) Capturing painful scenarios with stunningly beautiful cinematography seems to be his trademark, so what better topic for him to make a film of than slavery? Humans being treated inhumanely set against the lush backdrop of pre-Civil War Louisiana. Personally, although '12 Years a Slave' is an excellent film, and that is no overstatement, it isn’t quite as upsetting as many have claimed it to be. Now, before you make a judgment call, allow me a few sentences to explain myself. This film comes from a man who made the most downbeat film of 2011 and directed intensely unbearable scenes of IRA prisoners smearing feces on the walls of their jail cells, but with '12 Years a Slave,' I can’t help but feeling as though he’s restrained himself. Maybe I was expecting it to be a much harsher film than it ultimately is, and that is a very close possibility. Either way, when '12 Years a Slave' was over, I didn’t recall much about it that made me feel truly uneasy.

The best explanation I can come up with is that whereas 'Hunger' and 'Shame' broke new ground, '12 Years a Slave' really hasn’t. I’ve heard and seen far worse things about slavery than I have sex addiction and the unjust imprisonment of supposed IRA soldiers, so the film couldn't show me much more than what I’d already known. That’s just me. I’m not sure how others feel, but seeing as this is my review, I think I’m entitled to share my opinions. However, '12 Years a Slave' is one of the best films of the year, and it does feature stunning, richly-textured cinematography and the best work from leading actors Chiwetel Ejiofor and McQueen regular Michael Fassbender. Even if I didn’t find it to be utterly powerful, I was moved by several scenes and heartbroken by Ejiofor’s sympathetic performance, and there’s this excruciatingly long take that had me cringing at every whiplash.

8.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
11.
This Is the End (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  
While attending a party at James Franco's house, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and many other celebrities are faced with the Biblical Apocalypse. (107 mins.)
“ Self-indulgent but self-deprecating at the same time, ‘This Is the End’ is without a doubt the funniest movie of the year. I would say that the screenplay is the source of a majority of the laughs, but since the whole film feels improvised, that wouldn't make much sense. No, what makes ‘This Is the End’ work as much it does is the cast, which has the likes of Michael Cera, Jonah Hill and James Franco offering some disparagingly hilarious portrayals of themselves. It’s an all-around hilarious movie that brought me to tears at some points, and whatever flaws it has as a film are insignificant. You’ll be laughing so hard you won’t even notice them.

8.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
12.
The Act of Killing (2012 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
A documentary which challenges former Indonesian death-squad leaders to reenact their mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers. (115 mins.)
“ An unsettling film by all accounts, 'The Act of Killing' is both exactly what I expected it to be and completely unlike anything I’ve seen before. Frankly, I had never heard of the Indonesian killings of ’65-‘66, where hundreds of thousands of communists were slaughtered after trying to overthrow the government, or the Pemuda Pancasila, but I was still just as terrified by these individuals, Anwar Congo and crew, who to this day exhibit no real remorse for their victims. They joke around and boast about their killings, and happily offer to re-enact scenes of asphyxiation, mutilation and torture for us. Not even David Lynch can do surrealism this well.

Josh Oppenheimer’s lucid style contributes heavily to making 'The Act of Killing' as harrowing as it is. As the film progresses, it begins to take the form of Congo’s own nightmares, placing us right in the center of some of the strangest and most haunting scenarios I think I’ve ever seen.

8.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
13.
The Hunt (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
A teacher lives a lonely life, all the while struggling over his son's custody. His life slowly gets better as he finds love and receives good news from his son, but his new luck is about to be brutally shattered by an innocent little lie. (115 mins.)
“ 8.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
14.
Gravity (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
Two astronauts work together to survive after an accident which leaves them alone in space. (91 mins.)
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
“ WATCH as a terrified Sandra Bullock drifts helplessly throughout the abysmal blackness of space while impressive CGI threatens to kill her at Any. Possible. Moment. HEAR as large objects crash into another and make no noise because in space, there is no sound. (Yet somehow there’s a synth score that kind of ruins the silence.) TASTE your own sweat as it drips down from your brow and coats your lips as you tremble uncontrollably in some piss-stained movie theater seat. FEEL the person next to you as you struggle to hold onto them for dear life. SMELL yourself *beep* yourself in fear: Pure. Unadulterated. Fear.

That’s right, folks. 'Gravity' is a 4-D affair, making damn sure that no sense is left untouched. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more exhilarating experience in the cinema this entire year. And if none of that sells you, I’m pretty sure that there’s a 'Barbarella' reference in it somewhere, too. So yeah.

8.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
15.
The Heat (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  
An uptight FBI Special Agent is paired with a foul-mouthed Boston cop to take down a ruthless drug lord. (117 mins.)
Director: Paul Feig
“ From Paul Feig (nicknamed ‘Hollywood’s accidental feminist’) comes a movie that’s a whole lot funnier than it’s made out to be. Going into 'The Heat,' I’ll admit that my expectations weren’t high due to some mediocre-looking trailers, but as it turns out, I was quite pleasantly surprised by how much I laughed. (The laughs here are more frequent than the ones in 'Bridesmaids,' although there isn’t a sequence as funny as the airplane/air marshal bit.) Feig is a well-equipped director when it comes to staging comedy, and he proves this several times, but much of the onscreen hilarity comes from the performances of Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, the latter of whom is just flat-out hilarious in her role. Much like Bill Murray, McCarthy is one of the few performers who could do something as mundane as getting into a car and somehow make it the funniest thing you’ve ever seen. Of course, like most comedies, 'The Heat' has a handful of gags that don’t totally work, but its hit-or-miss ratio is largely in favor of hit.

7.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
16.
Enough Said (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
A divorced woman who decides to pursue the man she's interested in learns he's her new friend's ex-husband. (93 mins.)
“ 'Enough Said' is a very amiable romantic comedy that succeeds largely due to the performances/chemistry of Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini and Nicole Holofcener’s screenplay, which makes some very acute observations of middle-aged romance. A lot of it comes across as kind of sitcom-ish, but that doesn’t necessarily hold it back in the long run, and any contrivances that 'Enough Said' has aren’t too noticeable against the charming performances and dialogue. After all, aren’t most rom-coms built off of contrivances? That’s how the genre tends to work, right? As long as they don’t come to rely on them, they’re fine by me.

7.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
17.
Short Term 12 (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
A 20-something supervising staff member of a residential treatment facility navigates the troubled waters of that world alongside her co-worker and longtime boyfriend. (96 mins.)
“ 7.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
18.
Dirty Wars (2013 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill is pulled into an unexpected journey as he chases down the hidden truth behind America's expanding covert wars. (87 mins.)
Director: Rick Rowley
“ 7.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
19.
Her (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with an operating system designed to meet his every need. (126 mins.)
Director: Spike Jonze
“ Kudos to Spike Jonze for making a movie about a romance between a man and his computer and having it not seem creepy and/or depressing in the least. That in itself is an accomplishment, so my hat is off to you, Mr. Jonze, sir.

Actually, 'Her' is quite the opposite of creepy and depressing. Everything about it is so beautifully understated and completely unpretentious, which comes as a mild surprise, and the relationship between Theodore and Samantha never seems strange or questionable at all. And visually, 'Her' is just stupendous and certainly one of the best-looking films in recent memory. So low-key yet so visually appealing with all of those muted browns and reds and pinks. Not a frame went by where I wasn't in some sort of awe. And believe me, even though I truly wanted to hate the hipster-y costume design, I couldn't. I just couldn't bring myself to hate it.

Yet when 'Her' is finished, when it’s all said and done, when that final shot fades out, I can’t help but feeling like there’s something missing. And it pisses me off because I can’t figure out just what it is.

7.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
20.
Behind the Candelabra (2013 TV Movie)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
A chronicle of the tempestuous six year romance between megastar singer, Liberace, and his teenage lover, Scott Thorson. (118 mins.)
“ Steven Soderbergh’s last film isn’t his best or his second best or even his third best, but it is a nice, low-key effort that surprises in how effectively funny and charming it is. Michael Douglas and Matt Damon are equally astounding in their roles, even though Douglas has the performance that most remember, and overall, what ‘Behind the Candelabra’ offers is a delicate, extravagant look at Liberace in his later years and on into his death.

7.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
21.
Drinking Buddies (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.1/10 X  
Luke and Kate are coworkers at a brewery who spend their nights drinking and flirting heavily. One weekend away together with their significant others proves who really belongs together and who doesn't. (90 mins.)
Director: Joe Swanberg
“ Massive question: why is Jake Johnson sans beard on the poster? Is that some sort of weird symbolism?

But in all seriousness, 'Drinking Buddies' is a charming little indie heartwarmer, no matter how negative that opening statement sounds. I’m always a fan of these character-centered dramedies, which probably stems from me being such a huge Altmanite, and despite being it helmed by Joe Swanberg, 'Drinking Buddies' isn’t too mumblecore-y, and boy what a relief that is! Johnson and Olivia Wilde are both just fantastic and Anna Kendrick provides solid support. (Ron Livingston is a tad too old to be hanging with this crowd, but who the hell cares?)

7.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
22.
The World's End (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
Five friends who reunite in an attempt to top their epic pub crawl from twenty years earlier unwittingly become humanity's only hope for survival. (109 mins.)
Director: Edgar Wright
“ When compared to other action-comedies of late, ‘The World’s End’ does seem to end in quite a spectacular fashion, but the truth is that its ending just plainly doesn’t work. I mean, yeah, it is an ambitious attempt (and one aggravating hell of a cliffhanger) that’s so out there you can’t fault its creators for lack of trying, but at the same time, they’ve just got too much on their plate, and ending the trilogy in a ‘blaze of glory’ wasn’t the right move. ‘The World’s End’ has problems besides its ending, but they aren’t as noticeable, especially when you’re laughing your ass off. While it isn’t the best film in the trilogy (Hot Fuzz!), it certainly is the funniest. Its surprisingly great sense of humor carries it through most of its pratfalls, and Simon Pegg actually has a very fine performance. At least with ‘The World’s End,’ you get your money’s worth. It has just about everything you want from a movie, unfortunate ending notwithstanding.

7.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
23.
American Hustle (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
A con man, Irving Rosenfeld, along with his seductive partner Sydney Prosser, is forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso, who pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia. (138 mins.)
“ I have no qualms with 'American Hustle' being referred to as ‘low-rent Scorsese’ because most directors imitate their influences, so that comparison is relatively justified, but going so far as to call Russell a rip-off and a hack is something else. Yes, he does borrow heavily from Scorsese’s repertoire of visual tricks, and he also utilizes the 'Goodefellas'-styled double voice-over, but 'American Hustle' has a heart and mind of its own. (Having said that, I still don’t understand the current hype surrounding Russell’s career because the man simply hasn’t made anything ‘remarkable’ or ‘groundbreaking’ since his pre-'I Heart Huckabees' days, and no one was calling him an auteur or showering him with awards back then.) What bugs me about 'American Hustle' is its lukewarm humor and caricatured performances, most especially the work of Bradley Cooper, whose disparate lack of anything resembling charm or emotional depth may in fact be an ironic take on the film’s whole ‘everyone’s a *beep* bro’ theme. (And he’s in talks for an Oscar nomination – which, seriously? He had more charisma in 'Wedding Crashers'.) Christian Bale’s performance is by far the best and most considerably underappreciated aspect here and is one of the few things that keeps me from buckingly under pressure of so many negative reviews and going with the general consensus that 'American Hustle' is cheap and terrible. Certainly it isn’t worthy of the praise, and I think that’s a given, but it is fairly entertaining stuff. I quite enjoyed the ‘science oven’ bit.

7.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
24.
Side Effects (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
A young woman's world unravels when a drug prescribed by her psychiatrist has unexpected side effects. (106 mins.)
“ This is a thriller in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock that has various twists and turns, a complex storyline and excellent performances from the entire cast, especially Jude Law. Definitely one of the most underlooked films of the year. Sorry to see you go, Steven Soderbergh, but at least you went out in style.

7.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
25.
Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
In 1985 Dallas, electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is diagnosed with the disease. (117 mins.)
“ 7.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
26.
Cutie and the Boxer (2013 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
This candid New York love story explores the chaotic 40-year marriage of famed boxing painter Ushio Shinohara and his wife, Noriko. Anxious to shed her role as her overbearing husband's assistant, Noriko finds an identity of her own. (82 mins.)
“ 7.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
27.
The Conjuring (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren work to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in their farmhouse. (112 mins.)
Director: James Wan
“ In all of his films, James Wan has proved that he is an extremely capable and stylish director with a great visual sense, even when the material he's working with isn't stellar. 'The Conjuring' is a modest success when it comes to its narrative and how it's constructed, but it's a real achievement when it comes to how scary it is. This is one of the most terrifying films in recent memory, and this is mainly owed to the fact that James Wan is a master at building real tension and creating an unsettling atmosphere.

7.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
28.
Prince Avalanche (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  
Two highway road workers spend the summer of 1988 away from their city lives. The isolated landscape becomes a place of misadventure as the men find themselves at odds with each other and the women they left behind. (94 mins.)
“ It would appear as though David Gordon Green has returned to the low-key character studies he started his career with. (I can’t say if that’s necessarily a good thing or not since I’ve yet to see any of his pre-'Pineapple Express' stuff, but it apparently is.) 'Prince Avalanche' has Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch repeatedly going heart-to-heart in the woods, taking seemingly forever to form a friendship. These aren’t Oscar caliber performances, obviously, because of their subtlety, but they do showcase some fine dramatic acting from Rudd and Hirsch, both of whom really delve into their characters. It’s their performances that carry 'Prince Avalanche' through its entire running time. Seeing Paul Rudd stumble through the wreckage of a recently burned-down home, acting as if it were his own, going through the routine of coming home from work and calling out to his wife, just has to be one of the best scenes of the year.

7.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
29.
August: Osage County (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
A look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them. (121 mins.)
Director: John Wells
“ 7.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
30.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
The dwarves, along with Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey, continue their quest to reclaim Erebor, their homeland, from Smaug. Bilbo Baggins is in possession of a mysterious and magical ring. (161 mins.)
Director: Peter Jackson
“ I read 'The Hobbit' back when I was in fourth grade, and seeing as that was quite some time ago, I don’t remember much about it. But I do think I get the general gist of the story – hobbits and elves fight a rapacious dragon, and take a damn long while to do so. All of this to say that I saw 'The Desolation of Smaug' without having seen 'An Unexpected Journey' beforehand; thus, no comparisons can be made by me between the first and second films in the 'The Hobbit' franchise. But, from what I’ve heard, 'An Unexpected Journey' takes quite literally forever to begin. This isn’t the case with 'The Desolation of Smaug,' which starts by placing us right in the action and moving onward from there, never slowing down until it hits its fantastic cliffhanger-of-an-ending. Problems though. Somehow Peter Jackson has gotten it into his head that dominating each and every scene with brain-rapingly ruthless amounts of CGI is a great idea. Whereas 'The Lord of the Rings' seamlessly blended visual effects with practical effects, achieving a perfect balance of the two, 'The Desolation of Smaug' is almost entirely computer-generated, and this cheapens it. It just kind of seems like the easy way. (However, I’m no visual effects artist, so I’ll kindly go *beep* myself.)

7.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
31.
Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
Author P.L. Travers reflects on her childhood after reluctantly meeting with Walt Disney, who seeks to adapt her Mary Poppins books for the big screen. (125 mins.)
“ 'Saving Mr. Banks' made me realize that I need to toughen up. I mean, seriously. Last time I saw 'Mary Poppins' I was around six or seven years old and I don’t remember a damned thing about it, but somehow John Lee Hancock and crew almost, almost managed to bring me to tears. I’m straight serious, broseph. A single tear was almost shed on my behalf, and that’s kind of embarrassing for a man like myself. (But hey, this is coming from the guy who cried and continues to cry during 'Shawshank Redemption' numerous times, so maybe I’m just a sappy son of a bitch.

I don’t usually get suckered into falling for these schmaltzy tearjerkers, but 'Saving Mr. Banks' welcomed me into its cozy embrace with open arms and allowed me two hours of pure cuddle time. Though I didn’t actually cry, I came awfully close, and to me that counts.

I blame it on Paul Giamatti. The guy is easily the most likable working actor. He just has this way of injecting enough honesty into his characters to make me want to go and give every single one of them a big hug. Even a character as secondary and unimportant as a limo driver with less than five minutes of screen time.

Oh, and Emma Thompson is outstanding.

7.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
32.
This Is Martin Bonner (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  
Martin Bonner has just moved to Nevada from the East Coast, leaving behind his two adult children and a life he spent more than two decades building. (83 mins.)
Director: Chad Hartigan
“ Cinematic understatement often comes with schmaltz and a handful of pretensions, but thankfully, ‘This Is Martin Bonner’ isn’t another one of those sappy dramas that independent filmmaking is practically synonymous with. ‘This Is Martin Bonner’ moves at a slow pace, examining the growth of a friendship between the titular character and an ex-convict, and without the constraints of a narrative, it feels like real life. Paul Eenhoorn and Richmond Arquette are both quite wonderful in this somber debut from director Chad Hartigan, who understands that you don’t necessarily need to tug at the heartstrings in order to deliver an inspirational message. He has crafted a low-key character study that doesn’t amount to much in terms of entertainment, and it doesn't have much material to cover even its short running time, but it does offer a realistic portrayal of two guys stuck in a rut finding hope in one another. It really leaves you in a peaceful state.

7.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
33.
Fruitvale Station (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
The story of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008. (85 mins.)
Director: Ryan Coogler
“ 'Fruitvale Station' gets its point across in a sledgehammer fashion that’s typical for racially-charged films, but its successes tend to outweigh its heavy-handedness. Though its themes are slightly too obvious and its length could have been stretched in order to allow its characters more room to come to life, there’s no questioning the emotional impact of Ryan Coogler’s hard-hitting dramatic debut. This is more than likely owed to a sympathetic performance from Michael B. Jordan and a realistic depiction of urban life.

7.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
34.
Philomena (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
A world-weary political journalist picks up the story of a woman's search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent. (98 mins.)
Director: Stephen Frears
“ Bask in all of the Steve Coogan-ness of 'Philomena.' Stand in awe of it. Embrace it. Love it. Cherish it. Nurture it. Call it your friend.

As much as I love me some Coogan, I’m not sure what 'Philomena' is trying to be. Is it a drama? Is it a comedy? Is it really about the missing son of Philomena Lee, or is that just an excuse to make critical observations of Catholicism and the Republican party? Is it about what it truly means to be a mother, or is about what it means to be Jane Russell? However heavyhanded some of its statements may be, 'Philomena' has a big heart, which is marginally provided by the charming performance of Judi Dench as the titular character. And let’s not forget about that Steve Coogan. Let’s not forget about that. He’s almost as Coogan-y here as he is in 'The Trip,' the penultimate Coogan film, and that’s something to surely treasure. Nevertheless, I won’t let my obvious man-love for Steve Coogan get in the way of Philomena's flaws. (Keep in mind that it almost does.) But its flaws aren’t anything to fuss over. 'Philomena' isn’t contrived, predictable or sentimental, and even if it isn’t as technically polished as some of Frears’ earlier films, it gets the job done. It’s instantly forgettable, but touching and cute. Very cute.

7.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
35.
Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.8/10 X  
As Jamie travels in Chile, he invites an eccentric woman to join his group's quest to score a fabled hallucinogen, a move that finds him at odds with his new companion, until they drink the magic brew on a beach at the edge of the desert. (98 mins.)
“ Sebastián Silva’s weirdly enjoyable 'Crystal Fairy' works because it’s not what you think it’s going to be. It has Michael Cera starring in a role that’s simultaneously unlike anything he’s done before but also very much like everything he’s done before. Jamie is the same kind of eclectic hipster that Cera is practically synonymous with yet he’s examined in a different light here. Cera’s performance gradually reveals itself to be a thoughtful, complex, layered one, and I think we all see a little bit of ourselves in his desperately attention-seeking character. However, one mustn’t forget about Gaby Hoffman, whose performance is just as multi-faceted and career-changing as Cera’s. A former child star, she gives Crystal Fairy the kind-heartedness necessary for us to like her. I’ve met many a Crystal Fairy during my lifetime, and as much as you want to hate them at first, you eventually end up enjoying their quirks. 'Crystal Fairy' has a fairly simple concept for film that’s over an hour and a half long, which sort of explains its aimlessness, but it never feels like it’s not going somewhere. Probably the only real issue I have with 'Crystal Fairy' is its ending, which is cathartic but, at the same time, not cathartic at all. I still don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about it.

7.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
36.
Rush (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
The merciless 1970s rivalry between Formula One rivals James Hunt and Niki Lauda. (123 mins.)
Director: Ron Howard
“ I understand why Ron Howard chose to direct ‘Rush’ in the high-octane style that he did, but regardless of the overall ‘swiftness’ of its subject matter, the film is almost too fast for its own good. I’m not referring to the fast-paced editing (which incorporates a multitude of quick cuts, limiting average shot length down to about two seconds) or the constantly-moving camerawork, but to the film’s narrative. No, on a technical level, ‘Rush’ is quite astounding and rather remarkably polished; a ‘well-oiled machine,’ if you'll forgive the cheesy metaphor. I’ve come to accept that I complain about (a lack of) plot and character development a lot, but I tend to have good reason for doing so, and ‘Rush’ literally rushes just a little too much through its story, often forsaking character depth in favor of impressive visual work. Of course, I won’t say that I wasn’t entertained or thrilled because I truly was, but the James Hunt-Niki Lauda rivalry that ‘Rush’ is based upon should have been made into a more interesting, moving film. ‘Rush’ is a crowd-pleaser, yes, but nothing that you haven't seen before.

7.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
37.
The Square (2013 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
A group of Egyptian revolutionaries battle leaders and regimes, risking their lives to build a new society of conscience. (108 mins.)
Director: Jehane Noujaim
“ 7.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
38.
In the House (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
A high school French teacher is drawn into a precocious student's increasingly transgressive story about his relationship with a friend's family. (105 mins.)
Director: François Ozon
“ 7.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
39.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
When his job along with that of his co-worker are threatened, Walter takes action in the real world embarking on a global journey that turns into an adventure more extraordinary than anything he could have ever imagined. (114 mins.)
Director: Ben Stiller
“ What both irks and amazes me the most about 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' is Ben Stiller. Not his performance, but his directional choices, which are simultaneously the best and most annoying thing about this film. His unprecedented eye for visual style is evinced by brilliant shot compositions and sweeping camerawork, and his ambition elevates a rather serviceable screenplay to new, profound heights. However, there are times where it feels as though Stiller is pandering to the dumbest, sappiest crowd of people on Earth with his blatant force-feeding of the film's overall message of ‘Life’s what you make it so let’s make it ROCK,' and this seriously threatens to undermine the understated elegance he maintains so well throughout. It’s a given that most ‘life-affirming’ films are schmaltzy in one way or another; the key to making the message stick is to avoid heavyhandess and pretension at all costs. Stiller successfully manages to do this for a good majority of the film, but I guess even he can’t help keeping his sentimental side bottled up. 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' is a mixed bag for sure, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t charm the pants right off of me.

6.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
40.
Scenic Route (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  
Tensions rise between lifelong friends Mitchell and Carter after their truck breaks down on an isolated desert road as they start to attack each other's life decisions with unwavering brutality. (82 mins.)
“ Teen heart throb Josh Duhamel and Dan ‘The Poor Man’s Jack Black’ Fogler have… acting chops? Yes. They do. It’s true, guys. It’s a damn truth. My reservations about the ending aside, 'Scenic Route' is an entirely adequate, uh… (what the hell is it exactly? Horror? Thriller?) that has these two actors giving the best performances of their careers. Not only are their characters convincing, but they’re convincing as well. If I wasn’t so doubtful, I’d say there’s a hint of symbolism in Duhamel’s characterization, as he strips away his ‘pretty boy’ image and devolves into looking like one of those goons from 'Doomsday.' You could split 'Scenic Route' right down the middle. The first half is essentially one long conversation; the second is less dialogue-driven, more action-oriented. It settles into something of a formula during the latter half, and the ending really, really thinks it clever, but the first hour or so is just so unexpectedly good that it can be forgiven.

6.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
41.
Only God Forgives (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.7/10 X  
Julian, a drug-smuggler thriving in Bangkok's criminal underworld, sees his life get even more complicated when his mother compels him to find and kill whoever is responsible for his brother's recent death. (90 mins.)
“ Nicolas Winding Refn relies on visuals and actions to progress the story more than he does dialogue, which most consider a handicap. After all, the man is an auteur, and he sure can create a perfect-looking motion picture. Sadly, a writer he is not, which is something that I’m sure he would agree with. (‘Drive’ is his most acclaimed work, and it’s the only one that was scripted by someone other than himself.) To call the response that ‘Only God Forgives’ received ‘harsh’ would be a gross understatement; it’s nearly impossible to find an ecstatic review written or said about it. But Refn has made the absolute most of a run-of-the-mill script. His film oozes with audacity and unparalleled style, and each scene is executed with near visual perfection. There’s no denying that ‘Only God Forgives’ could have used a writer with more of an ear for storytelling, but the almost universal disdain for the film is puzzling.

6.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
42.
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stock-broker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government. (180 mins.)
Director: Martin Scorsese
“ What comes to mind first is that 'The Wolf of Wall Street' is all bark and little bite. That it’s just ostentatious filmmaking that mistakes excess and perversity and edginess for elements of hard-hitting satire. You don’t leave the theater thinking about the message. You leave thinking about the stylish camerawork, the sex scenes, the drug use, the chaos, the comedy. You might think to yourself when it’s over, ‘Man, that Jordan Belfort guy was a real prick,’ but that’s an afterthought, and it fades quickly. That is not a characteristic of good satire.

The second thought that comes to mind is that Scorsese is playing a big practical joke on us. (Even I am hesitant to doubt his intelligence as a filmmaker.) He could just be messing with us. I mean, there is a chance that his blunt, bold style compliments the point that his film is trying to make, which is that we all secretly want to be like Jordan Belfort. In that case, it makes sense that everything is so exaggerated and over-the-top and sexed up because we’re meant to leave the film desiring Belfort’s lifestyle even more. Yes, that is a very bleak perspective, and I’m not sure how comfortable I am with it.

Either way, neither scenario works in Scorsese’s favor. Whether or not he intended to, he does end up glamorizing these vacuous, money-hungry Wall Street goons, and that doesn’t sit right with me. He should have toned down his approach regardless because there’s no telling how many empty-headed toolbags he’s influenced into pursuing the lifestyle depicted here. (And those same toolbags had probably never even heard of Belfort in the first place, so there’s even more blame shifted Scorsese’s way.)

But I’m not gonna lie, I laughed quite a bit, and since 'The Wolf of Wall Street' is billed as a comedy, I’m marking it down as being successful in that regard. I enjoyed it, but not enough to overlook its problematic message.

6.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
43.
Spring Breakers (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.3/10 X  
Four college girls hold up a restaurant in order to fund their spring break vacation. While partying, drinking, and taking drugs, they are arrested, only to be bailed out by a drug and arms dealer. (94 mins.)
Director: Harmony Korine
“ Traditional values, ya’ll.

Okay, so this had all the potential in the world to be horrifying, but ultimately is just mildly unsettling, with an underused/oversold James Franco performance. Half of 'Spring Breakers' is repetitive and/or boring, the other half is quietly terrifying, and frankly, I could’ve done without the overt messaging, like snippets of a phone conversation (“Mom, I had a real fun time down here”) played over shots of bulletholed bodies.

It looks great, though. Harmony Korine turns the Dayglow aesthetic on its ear, painting that wretched subculture with their own brush, and almost every frame is majestic.

6.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
44.
Twenty Feet from Stardom (2013 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
Backup singers live in a world that lies just beyond the spotlight. Their voices bring harmony to the biggest bands in popular music, but we've had no idea who these singers are or what lives they lead, until now. (91 mins.)
Director: Morgan Neville
“ There’s just not a whole lot of ground covered here. I mean, what is covered proves to be enlightening – that is, we get to see a side of a profession that most of us naturally don’t think about it when listening to all of these awesome tunes – but as a whole, the film feels less like an examination of a career and more like an examination of about four or five people, and unless I’m misguided, that isn’t its intention.

I guess that on a personal level, 'Twenty Feet from Stardom' didn’t do much for me. There are a lot of people out there that introduce it as a film that you have to see if you’re a musician or an artist, but I didn’t find that to be true. ('Inside Llewyn Davis' - an entirely fictional film – made a much more indelible impression.) For what it is, it gets the job done, but it’s nothing to write home about.

6.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
45.
Elysium (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  
In the year 2154, the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth. A man takes on a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds. (109 mins.)
Director: Neill Blomkamp
“ It’s quite obvious that South African-born director Neill Blomkamp has a strong emotional connection to the continent he comes from, but he goes about expressing it in all the wrong ways. In a thematical sense, he is the equivalent of Michael Bay because either he doesn't know or plainly just doesn't care about understatement. ‘District 9’ was heavy-handed tripe that literally relocated the events of the apartheid era to a futuristic setting; ‘Elysium’ stands as a metaphor for issues with the current health care and immigration laws. Fortunately, ‘Elysium’ is the lesser annoying of the two partially because its ideas backfire on themselves, creating an argument for and against its own stance on the topic, but mainly because they aren't as fleshed-out as they should be in order to work. So with its social commentary so muddled to the point where it doesn't even seem to be taking sides, ‘Elysium’ feels more like the genre flick that it should have been in the first place. It’s a loud, exciting sci-fi action drama that promises thrills and delivers them accordingly, which is quite exceptional considering that we’re in an age when most other blockbusters are dull, headache-inducing drivel.

6.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
46.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  
With the '70s behind him, San Diego's top-rated newsman, Ron Burgundy, returns to take New York's first 24-hour news channel by storm. (119 mins.)
Director: Adam McKay
“ Four reasons why 'Anchorman 2' is worth seeing come in the form of ‘sweet cream on nipples’ being used as a catch phrase, a Florence Henderson-themed VD joke, a length comparison of bats to chicken, and a ghostly cameo from the never-not-funny John C. Reilly. As probably most everyone else, I wasn’t expecting 'Anchorman 2' to be even remotely as good as its predecessor, so going in with moderately low expectations certainly relieved some of the stress. However, I will say that whereas the original 'Anchorman' rarely has a moment where a joke falls flat, its sequel isn’t as lucky. The second act does drag in parts, often quite painfully so, but there are enough laughs scattered throughout to keep the film from feeling like a total disappointment. (Although Judah Nelson has a performance so supremely and ass slappingly godawful it’ll make you cringe every time he says a line.) But seriously, those aforementioned four reasons by themselves are gold enough to merit 'Anchorman 2' a watch.

6.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
47.
Wrong (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  
Dolph Springer wakes up one morning to realize he has lost the love of his life, his dog, Paul. During his quest to get Paul (and his life) back, Dolph radically changes the lives of others -- risking his sanity all the while. (94 mins.)
Director: Quentin Dupieux
“ 'Wrong' is the kind of movie where a character dies after going into cardiac arrest while carrying a palm-turned-pine tree and then somehow miraculously wanders back into the picture without any explanation at all. I don’t mean that in a bad way; I just mean that it’s really out there. At first, I thought that it was just a really bad movie. Then I realized that it wasn’t, and I kind of just went with it. And I think I kind of enjoyed it. Typically, I don’t have a problem with films that are weird just for the sake of being weird. David Lynch does it all the time, and people applaud him for it, so why can’t others do it as well without being criticized? It’s only when the director chooses to make things weird and then pretends like they all add up some big hidden, contemplative meaning when, in reality, they don’t that I have a problem. I’m talking about pretensions, people. Luckily, 'Wrong' doesn’t have much of that. It is weird just of the sake of being weird (even though I’m sure there’s some stuff in there about existentialism), and it does it honestly quite well. There’s a character who goes around painting peoples’ cars for no reason whatsoever; a wealthy stranger named Master Chang who believes in communicating telepathically with dogs; a private detective who manages to videotape the memory of a turd; a neighbor who moves out of his house so that he can drive endlessly through the desert; and a woman who gets pregnant and gives birth in the span of less than a week. The performances are stilted, several scenarios are relentlessly awkward and/or creepy, and there’s a good bit of hilarity. I laughed several times, I kid you not. Alas, there are times where the strangeness does get on your nerves and the film feels aimless. Most of this comes in its final third, which doesn’t work all too well, but you’ll want to stick it out because the opening hour is so solid.

6.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
48.
To the Wonder (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.9/10 X  
After falling in love in Paris, Marina and Neil come to Oklahoma, where problems arise. Their church's Spanish-born pastor struggles with his faith, while Neil encounters a woman from his childhood. (112 mins.)
Director: Terrence Malick
“ People who throw around the word ‘pretentious’ when describing Terrence Malick need a better understanding of what that word means. He is not a pretentious filmmaker. He uses the medium as a means for expressing his fascination with life and natural beauty, and he is an artist in the truest sense. Now, whether or not you like his style – minimal dialogue, whispered voice-overs, sweeping camerawork, heavy use of the wide-angle lens, quick cuts – depends entirely upon what kind of person you are. Me, I’m sort of split between loving and not loving his films. Not love and hate, but love and not love because I don’t think I could ever hate a man whose primary goal is simply to provide us with beautiful, thought-provoking imagery, and especially when he does it so well. (There has never been an ugly Terrence Malick film.)

'To the Wonder' is his least successful outing – which, kudos to him because it’s still isn’t half-bad for being that. Yes, the visual work from longtime collaborator and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski is nothing short of stunning, but that’s kind of all that 'To the Wonder' has going for it. It does feel like a two-hour long advertisement for Dove or LL Bean (albeit a well-directed one) and all of the characters are sad sacks that spend ninety-nine percent of the time moping around. (Seriously, who knew Oklahoma was such an emotional place?) But as a whole To the Wonder is affecting in its own way, even if it does border on self-parody a lot of the time.

6.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
49.
Dead Man Down (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  
In New York City, a crime lord's right-hand man is helped by a woman seeking retribution. (118 mins.)
“ Within the first fifteen minutes, 'Dead Man Down' goes from starting on a rather badass note (Blood! Guns! Sex! Yeah!) to Noomi Rapace and Colin Farrell cutely shaking hands with one another from the balconies of their respective skyscraper apartments. That, ladies and gentlemen, is where I draw the line when it comes to schmaltzy romantic *beep* Fortunately, although 'Dead Man Down' never rises above its B movie sensibilities, it also never re-enters the territory set by the previously mentioned handshake scenario.

This seems like an easy target. Guy has beef with other guys who killed his family, forms relationship with girl (who also has issues) across the hall and the two of them work together to overcome their issues aka ‘kick some major ass.’ Toss in some explosions, gunfights and a lot of designer suits and you have the recipe for the most simple movie ever made. But while that is a pretty apt description of 'Dead Man Down,' the film is not entirely without merit. It’s entertainment in its most serviceable form, offering a few thrills every now and then as well as able lensing from cinematographer Paul Cameron (the guy who worked alongside Dion Beebe on Collateral) and some interesting twists---- Oh *beep* was that F. Murray Abraham?

6.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
50.
The Iceman (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  
The story of Richard Kuklinski, the notorious contract killer and family man. When finally arrested in 1986, neither his wife nor daughters have any clue about his real profession. (106 mins.)
Director: Ariel Vromen
“ One can only imagine what a director like Martin Scorsese could have done with the story of notorious New Jersey-based contract killer Richard Kuklinski. One can only imagine. Sadly, 'The Iceman' isn’t concerned with dramatic insight or too many details, opting instead to squeeze only the bare essentials of Kuklinski’s life into as little screen time as possible. It’s the kind of film where changes in facial hair signify a passing in time, and that isn’t even its laziest aspect. Michael Shannon is always a welcome screen presence, and he’s at his most Michael Shannony here, doing that whole ‘so understated it’s kind of terrifying’ shtick of his to perfection. Chris Evans, Ray Liotta and James Franco (who apparently stopped by to cash a check) offer the only other memorable supporting performances.

'The Iceman' is brisk and fairly forgettable, making sure that there’s only enough in it for us to get the point that Kuklinksi was a bad dude. It isn’t awful by any means, but one can’t help wondering how a story this interesting ended up so mediocre.

6.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
51.
The Counselor (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.3/10 X  
A lawyer finds himself in over his head when he gets involved in drug trafficking. (117 mins.)
Director: Ridley Scott
“ 'The Counselor' is a very, very, very bleak film and, from what I gathered, has nothing good to say about humanity at all. Its general statement seems to be that we are all a bunch of bloodthirsty, materialistic animals, and there is no real hope for us. Ah, you just gotta love that McCarthy-istic optimism. However, 'The Counselor' is not a great film, so its impact isn’t lasting. You may think to yourself when it’s over, ‘Jesus, are we really that bad?’ But that thought will quickly fade when you come to the inevitable realization that what you just saw was a mediocre film. There’s a smattering of faux-philosophical dialogue, but it fits rather awkwardly in between the scenes of grit and brutality. Or maybe that’s the general statement that McCarthy is trying to make. Maybe we all are just a bunch of pompous airheads that sit around communicating with one another through ludicrously profound one-liners, oblivious to our dark and depraved surroundings. If it is, then kudos to your intellectualism, Cormac, but it still doesn’t work. No dice. Aside from the dialogue, another massive complaint about 'The Counselor' is that there are no likable characters in it. Personally, I don’t find that to be a justifiable criticism because unlikablity seems to be one of the film’s main points. However, I did like the character played by Brad Pitt, who looks like he should be singing lead vocals for Temple of the Dog. This might be because he’s Brad Pitt playing Brad Pitt in a cowboy hat, but that’s fine by me.

6.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
52.
Don Jon (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  
A New Jersey guy dedicated to his family, friends, and church, develops unrealistic expectations from watching porn and works to find happiness and intimacy with his potential true love. (90 mins.)
“ ‘Don Jon’ is brisk, clever, well-made and funny, but also underdeveloped, flashy and, at times, uncomfortable. As a debut, it’s a pretty solid effort from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who showcases his adeptness for staging scenes and mustering good performances from his actors, but as a film, it’s unremarkable. Most of this ‘unremarkable-ness’ stems from its ninety minute running time, which cuts a lot of crucial plot development out of the picture. The narrative goes from point A to point B without making any stops to fully elaborate on what’s happening, and that just frankly doesn’t do it for me. It may work for other people, but not for me. I mean, Mr. Gordon-Levitt, you're a gifted actor and all and you seem to know what you’re doing, but ‘Don Jon’ just isn’t your best work. You could have done better. However, you also could have done much, much, much worse.

6.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
53.
Room 237 (2012 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  
An exploration of various interpretations of Stanley Kubrick's horror film, The Shining. (102 mins.)
Director: Rodney Ascher
“ There are some points of interest in 'Room 237,' but there aren't enough of them to carry an entire film. What starts as an intriguing concept eventually wears thin around the halfway mark and becomes quite tiresome to watch. Cut out the more ludicrous theories and this could have been an entirely decent 60 minute spot on the History Channel.

6.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
54.
Computer Chess (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  
A 1980s-set story centered around a man vs. machine chess tournament. (92 mins.)
Director: Andrew Bujalski
“ I don’t really know how to describe 'Computer Chess.' Like, imagine if, like, '2001: A Space Odyssey' was stripped of its entire budget (and most of its philosophy) and relocated to some crappy hotel in the early ‘80s, and the characters were all replaced by awkward bespectacled teenagers. That’s probably the best description I can give, and even then, it still isn’t a very good one. (It’s actually not even close.)

Mumblecore is one of about fifteen things that truly piss me off. Luckily, 'Computer Chess' isn’t really mumblecore, even though its director, Andrew Bujalski, basically founded the sub-genre. The production value is considerably low and there’s a lot about the film that feels amateurish, but it doesn’t have that annoying, self-important quality about it that most other mumblecore films do. 'Computer Chess' isn't very good and, in parts, can be quite off-putting, but it's eccentric and charming, and I quite liked the Papageorge character and his brief quest to find a place to sleep.

6.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
55.
Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  
The Lamberts believe that they have defeated the spirits that have haunted their family, but they soon discover that evil is not beaten so easily. (106 mins.)
Director: James Wan
“ 'Insidious: Chapter 2' might be an improvement over its predecessor, which really isn't much of a compliment. It's scarier, yes, but most of those scares consist of creaking doors, creepy geriatrics, a piano playing itself, people turning on lights, people looking into mirrors, people looking off-screen in horror and... footage from the previous 'Insidious.' Yes, the moments that scared you from the first film are back for a second time. It's just shameless. But what makes 'Insidious: Chapter 2' surely the better out of the two is that it doesn't fall apart in its second half, and it's very stylishly-made, which is undoubtedly owed to director James Wan. It suffers from weak writing and acting, but overall, it's quite passable. Still, I'd have to say that most suspenseful thing about it was waiting for Patrick Wilson to blurt out 'Heeeeere's Johhhhhny!'

5.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
56.
Redemption (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.2/10 X  
Homeless and on the run from a military court martial, a damaged ex-special forces soldier navigating London's criminal underworld seizes an opportunity to assume another man's identity -- transforming into an avenging angel in the process. (100 mins.)
Director: Steven Knight
“ 'Redemption' has Jason Statham playing his usual indestructible self, but this time it at least seems as though he’s got an actual pulse. It’s a rare dramatic performance from the typically uncharismatic action star, which is a real shame because the film he gives it in is lazily written, nonsensical, shamefully contrived and quite anti-climactic, and the source of our main character’s emotional instability is never fully elaborated upon.

Extra points must be awarded to cinematographer Chris Menges, whose work behind the camera never fails to be anything less than considerably impressive. He does to London what Larry Smith did to Bangkok in 'Only God Forgives.'

5.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
57.
A Field in England (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  
Amid the Civil War in 17th-century England, a group of deserters flee from battle through an overgrown field. Captured by an alchemist, the men are forced to help him search to find a hidden treasure that he believes is buried in the field. (90 mins.)
Director: Ben Wheatley
“ Moderately enjoyable up until the arrival of the O’Neil character, whose purpose in the film I am still uncertain about. What role does he actually play? Upon O’Neil’s introduction, 'A Field in England' loses it focus and goes from being a delightfully absurd and drawn-out Monty Python sketch to a, um... what, exactly? What does it turn into? A psychedelic, bloody free-for-all? None of the action seems to add up or build to much of anything. I for one didn’t care for all of the drug-inflected nonsense, which largely seems to be the film’s main selling point. I would have preferred for 'A Field in England' to have stayed with its original characters, ditching O’Neil and the jarring tonal change that accompanies his introduction. I understand what Ben Wheatley was going for, but it doesn’t work – at least, not for me.

Richard Glover is quite great, though.

5.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
58.
Parker (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.2/10 X  
A thief with a unique code of professional ethics is double-crossed by his crew and left for dead. Assuming a new disguise and forming an unlikely alliance with a woman on the inside, he looks to hijack the score of the crew's latest heist. (118 mins.)
Director: Taylor Hackford
“ The line where ‘Parker’ changes from watchable neo-noir thriller to mediocre heist thriller can be drawn with the introduction of Jennifer Lopez’s character and Jason Statham’s Stetson hat and bad Texan accent. Up until that point, it’s surprising how enjoyable it is. Statham is serviceable in the lead role, playing essentially the same gravel-voiced character he’s been playing for years, and Hackford’s direction lends the film a likable grittiness. But then it devolves into uninspired plotting, an undeveloped romance between the Statham and Lopez characters and a finale that’s not as disappointing as it is unbelievably dumb. And let’s not forget an entire sequence that’s shamelessly devoted to showcasing the homes in the Palm Beach area.

5.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
59.
Sightseers (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  
Chris wants to show girlfriend Tina his world, but events soon conspire against the couple and their dream caravan holiday takes a very wrong turn. (88 mins.)
Director: Ben Wheatley
“ I started Ben Wheatley’s filmography with Kill List and, looking back now, it’s starting to seem like that was a bad idea. Don’t get me wrong, Kill List is a great film by no means, but it is one of the more terrifying and memorable ones I’ve seen recently, and nothing else of Wheatley’s that I’ve seen since has come close to matching its intensity, wit and so on.

Sightseers is his latest and has been getting a lot of praise in the independent circuit, but personally, I think it’s his least impressive film. There’s a lot that’s wrong with it, and the list starts with the complete suspension of disbelief it requires you to have. Individual moments of brilliance are scattered throughout, some of them laugh-out-loud worthy, but it’s a largely repetitive, predictable fare that covers ground that’s been covered several times before and better.

5.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
60.
You're Next (2011)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  
When the Davison family comes under attack during their wedding anniversary getaway, the gang of mysterious killers soon learns that one of the victims harbors a secret talent for fighting back. (95 mins.)
Director: Adam Wingard
“ ‘You’re Next’ feels a lot like something that Ti West would make as it shares or rather ‘borrows’ a lot of the director’s stylistic trademarks. (Oddly enough, Ti West appears in the film as well in an unfortunate acting role.) Frankly, none of that style works because the sheer brutality of the violence and the pervading sense of nihilism ruin all of the fun. It’s hopeless to root for any of the characters because you know how things will end for them, so you’re left watching scene after scene of people being slaughtered in awful ways. (Is there a non-awful way to be slaughtered?) And the recent trend of horror films labeling themselves as homages to B flicks from the 70s and 80s is getting quite tiresome. It’s a lame excuse for amateurish acting and predictable scenarios, which ‘You’re Next’ has plenty of. Ti West gets away with it in his films because his characters are likable and he rarely overdoes anything; Adam Wingard is just a cop-out. All this having been said, 'You're Next' isn't terrible. It's sleek and has some funny bits, but overall, it's just passable.

5.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
61.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.9/10 X  
A veteran Vegas magician tries to revive his career after his longtime partner quits, he gets fired from his casino act, and an edgy new "street magician" steals his thunder. (100 mins.)
Director: Don Scardino
“ The thing about 'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone' is that it could have been a very smart satire. If its creators had been willing to sidestep the sentimentality and approach the material with a much darker and world-weary tone, there’s no doubt that 'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone' could have been great. There are moments where the satire is acerbic and quite spot-on, but for the most part, it’s lazy and sloppy and predictable and terribly uneven. My problem is that if you’re going to make a satire, don’t half-do it. Don’t make a routinely bland comedy and then throw in a satirical joke or two every once in a while in order to give us the illusion that the film you’re making has much more depth than it rightfully does. That’s pretentious. That’s the easy way out. I get that this isn’t the 1970s and studios aren’t as willing as to gamble with downbeat themes anymore, but if you can’t go the whole nine yards, then don’t even attempt it at all. Stick to making your bland comedy as funny as it can be and leave the lampooning to those who know how to do it best. Now, all of that having been said, I laughed way more than I originally thought that I would. There are some good gags and comedic bits and some great supporting performances, and those quick satirical jabs at America’s taste in entertainment are quite clever (despite my disdain for them), but 'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone' is an altogether underwhelming and poorly-made film that should have been more tonally even. Of course, I tend to over-analyze films that exist solely as popcorn entertainment, so take this review with a grain of salt.

5.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
62.
Pain & Gain (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  
A trio of bodybuilders in Florida get caught up in an extortion ring and a kidnapping scheme that goes terribly wrong. (129 mins.)
Director: Michael Bay
“ Voice-over overload. Voice-overload.

Not as morally bankrupt as I’d been led to believe, which, frankly, is something I’m quite thankful for, but that’s not saying there aren’t moments of bad taste.

The Sun Gym murders case had the potential to be made into a searing satire about America’s ever-growing obsession with superficiality, but 'Pain & Gain' loses whatever edge it has once the violence starts up, because you know that, when given the chance, Michael Bay can’t resist using slow-motion.

This isn’t another one of those movies that unintentionally glamorizes the subject of its satire; it’s just that Bay fails to ever dig any deeper into the material than surface-level. It’s all gloss, with very little to say other than THIS STUFF ACTUALLY HAPPENED, which is disappointing because there’s the sense that a more deconstructive, insightful and blackly comic film could’ve been made had Bay not been put in charge.

I was never angered or upset, like some others claim to have been, but rather just bored and underwhelmed. It’s entertaining in parts, but largely humorless and dull, without ever fully committing to its self-aware tone, straying into loony territory on occasion – there are some knowing winks to the camera – but always falling back on mechanical laziness.

Fans of 'Barton Fink' rejoice, though, because Tony Shalhoub is in full Ben Geisler mode.

4.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
63.
Berberian Sound Studio (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.2/10 X  
A sound engineer's work for an Italian horror studio becomes a terrifying case of life imitating art. (92 mins.)
“ 'Berberian Sound Studio' feels like a David Lynch film that’s been stripped almost entirely of its intensity and strangeness. It begins rather boringly, continues that way for what seems like ages with countless shots of Toby Jones looking dreary and suicidal, and then, well… just kind of ends. From what I gather, films like this are meant to be analyzed rather than enjoyed, but let me ask you this: if a film can’t succeed as even the most basic form of entertainment, then why should I bother reading into it? Maybe that makes me sound ignorant, maybe it doesn’t. But if a filmmaker can’t make me at least remotely intrigued by what’s going on in their film, then I honestly don’t care if what they’re trying to say is the most subversive, most profound thing ever.

4.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
64.
Fast & Furious 6 (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
Hobbs has Dominic and Brian reassemble their crew to take down a team of mercenaries: Dominic unexpectedly gets convoluted also facing his presumed deceased girlfriend, Letty. (130 mins.)
Director: Justin Lin
“ I’m amazed by the direction that the 'Fast and Furious' franchise took. No one gave a single *beep* about these movies until 'Fast Five' rolled around and then all of a sudden this is considered one of the great modern action sagas. (By the way, has there ever been a more inconsistently-titled film series?) Also, I find it quite ironically hilarious that 'Fast Five' and 'Fast and Furious 6' are the best-reviewed and most profitable films of the series yet they have almost nothing to do with the fast cars or street races that the series was founded upon. No, now it’s all about 'Ocean’s Eleven'-styled heists and citywide destruction, and every character either talks through one-liners or mumble-grunts.

Honestly, I don’t know what the hell happened in 'Fast and Furious 6.' I don’t have a damn clue. All I know is that there is a scene where Vin Diesel jumps out of a moving car while airborne, flies from one side of the highway to the other, and lands on the windshield of another car without so much as a broken rib or a drop of sweat.

4.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
65.
Mama (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.2/10 X  
A young couple take in their two nieces only to suspect that a foreboding evil has latched itself to their family. (100 mins.)
Director: Andy Muschietti
“ If there was a way to spell out how a sigh actually sounds, rest assured it would be used here. I mean, c’mon, isn’t anybody else out there tired of these dull, ‘see if you can spot the reference’ movies? Or is it just me? If it is, then that just might be the most depressing thing I hear all week.

Yep, I think I’m done. I think I’m officially done with giving these horror – or whatever in the hell else you call ‘em – movies a chance. They’re just not cutting it. They suck, and I realize that that’s not exactly a critical word to use, but they do. They’re goddamned terrible, and so bland and uninspired and so, so annoyingly Gothic that it’s incredibly revolting. A Guillermo del Toro fan I am not and never will be. That’s one of the best promises I can make. 'Mama' was recommended to me in good faith, on good terms, with a promise that it would be at least moderately interesting.

Well, it sure as *beep* isn’t.

4.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
66.
The Way Way Back (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
Shy 14-year-old Duncan goes on summer vacation with his mother, her overbearing boyfriend, and her boyfriend's daughter. Having a rough time fitting in, Duncan finds an unexpected friend in Owen, manager of the Water Wizz water park. (103 mins.)
Director: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
“ I can't fault 'The Way Way Back' for not having its heart in the right place because it does, but that frankly doesn't cut it. The direction is uneven, the script is riddled with moments of artificiality, the performances are unremarkable and in the end, the whole film feels less inspiring than its creators think it is. Even the consistently unrewarded Sam Rockwell can't do much with the character he's given.

4.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
67.
Lovelace (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.2/10 X  
The story of Linda Lovelace, who is used and abused by the porn industry at the behest of her coercive husband, before taking control of her life. (93 mins.)
“ You know, I’ve thought about it and thought about it and I’ve come to the conclusion that there just isn’t a good enough reason for 'Lovelace' to exist. Its existence is unnecessary. Okay, so it’s about Linda Lovelace, who famously (or infamously, whatever) appeared in that groundbreaking(?) porno 'Deep Throat,' so it should be a moderately insightful examination of the porn industry during its rise in the early 1970s (à la 'Boogie Nights') or at the very, very least have enough boobies in it to make it worth the watch.

But nope. Nada. Not only does 'Lovelace' literally RUN through its story, rarely pausing for a second to elaborate on what the hell is going on or who these people are or why they’re important or why I give a *beep* but the B:RT (boobs-to-running-time) ratio is something ghastly like 1:35, which is just a travesty all in itself.

4.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
68.
Olympus Has Fallen (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  
Disgraced Secret Service agent (and former presidential guard) Mike Banning finds himself trapped inside the White House in the wake of a terrorist attack; using his inside knowledge, Banning works with national security to rescue the President from his kidnappers. (119 mins.)
Director: Antoine Fuqua
“ 'Olympus Has Fallen' plays kinda like a mission from one of those Call of Duty games, complete with video game quality CG, tons of shaky cam and a bombastic score that, in parts, sounds a lot like the opening theme to Terminator 2. It’s got blood, sweat, tears (erm… maybe, but I think I’m just trying to complete the reference with that last one) and oodles upon oodles of patriotism. It’s loud and dumb and macho and kind of awful, but the creators don’t care, and no one on our side seems to really care either, so I think I’ll just forget about ever having seen it and move on with my life. There's nothing worth hating here.

4.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
69.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  
A young Pakistani man is chasing corporate success on Wall Street. He finds himself embroiled in a conflict between his American Dream, a hostage crisis, and the enduring call of his family's homeland. (130 mins.)
Director: Mira Nair
“ Winner of the coveted award for Worst Titled Film of 2013, 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' stars actor/rapper Riz Ahmed as Pakistani professor Changez Khan in a performance so smug that you can practically feel him whispering in your ear, 'Yes, that's me up there, on the screen, movie-goer. Watch as I say this next line. Aren't I great? Aren't I something? Don't you realize that you are in the presence of a true actor right now? You're welcome.' But no matter how much 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' insists upon its own importance, it isn't. After all, a film is only as good as the sum of its parts, and 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' fails in that respect. Of course, it isn't entirely without merit, as, like with any half-decent film, there are individual moments where the basic filmmaking elements of acting, writing and directing seem to be in sync with one another, but, for the most part, it is entirely an exercise in mediocrity. Almost every plot point, character, etc. is a contrivance, and, as I've said countless times before, I've no problem with convention as long as the film brings something else to the table.

But 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' doesn't. It is tepid and totally uninspired, consisting majorly of predictably played-out scene after predictably played-out scene and boring, stock characters, including but not limited to the dark-haired love interest who works as a photographer and the token black guy who provides (lukewarm) comic relief. (Kate Hudson's Erica comes awfully close to having a 'The Shape of Things' character arc with her gallery showcase, but doesn't, much to my disappointment.)

4.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
70.
Upstream Color (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives. (96 mins.)
Director: Shane Carruth
“ I have an immense amount of respect for that cryptic son of a bitch Shane Carruth for the fact that he writes, directs, edits, stars in and composes the music for his movies and for how he avoids the spotlight and invests all of his time and money in them, but 'Upstream Color' is just a real bore. Visually and aurally, it is quite a wonder, but the pace is plodding, there's a noted lack of an interesting, coherent narrative and the entire thing is just drenched in self-indulgence.

4.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
71.
Assault on Wall Street (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.1/10 X  
Jim, an average New Yorker, lives with a sick but loving wife. Suddenly, everything changes when the economy crashes and causes him to lose everything. Filled with anger and rage, Jim goes to seek revenge for the life taken from him. (99 mins.)
Director: Uwe Boll
“ Uwe Boll has a reputation for being one of the most abysmal, misguided, pathetic filmmakers in ever. I’ve never seen any of his films, but that didn’t stop me from going into ‘Assault on Wall Street’ expecting the absolute worst. And… well, it isn’t terrible. It isn’t very good, but it certainly isn’t the work of a man labeled ‘The Master of Bad Movies.’ And that’s disappointing because I was kind of looking forward to seeing something embarrassingly awful. But I didn’t. ‘Assault on Wall Street’ is kind of like ‘Falling Down’ meets ‘Taxi Driver’ meets a made-for-TV movie. Dominic Purcell (that guy from ‘Prison Break’ and…) looks sullen the entire time as he undergoes financial problems that cause him to lose everything he loves (-- He could easily be the older brother of Channing Tatum if their father was Sylvester Stallone, amirite? --) and you’ll start to wonder how Edward Furlong gained so much weight since he was in ‘American History X,’ and then you’ll realize that that was over ten years ago and the guy just hasn’t done much since. All in all, it’s just terribly mediocre and brainless and really, really, painfully heavy-handed and… that’s about it. And by the way, the film’s original title was ‘Bailout: The Age of Greed.’ Has anything ever sounded more self-important?

4.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
72.
Arthur Newman (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.7/10 X  
A story of a man who fakes his own death and assumes a new identity in order to escape his life, who then moves in with a woman who is also trying to leave her past behind. (93 mins.)
Director: Dante Ariola
“ Some films frankly just don’t need to be raunchy, and ‘Arthur Newman’ is one of them. It could just have easily been a lighthearted, moderately sappy tale of a man searching for himself, and I would have perfectly fine with that, but no, its creators took it upon themselves to turn it into an R-rated affair, effectively destroying any sweetness the film might have had. The forced raunchiness is what makes ‘Arthur Newman’ feel tonally uneven and, at times, quite uncomfortable, and the fact that it’s dull and underwhelming and poorly-written on top of that doesn’t help. As well, Colin Firth and Emily Blunt are both thankless in their roles, seemingly going through the motions just to pay their bills. To call this their worst performances would imply that they’re trying, and it’s clear that they aren’t. And about the whole ‘raunchy’ thing, maybe I’m a purist; maybe I’m just mad that I didn’t get to see Blunt in the buff. Or maybe, just maybe, the film isn’t worth a damn.

4.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
73.
Escape from Tomorrow (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.2/10 X  
In a world of fake castles and anthropomorphic rodents, an epic battle begins when an unemployed father's sanity is challenged by a chance encounter with two underage girls on holiday. (90 mins.)
Director: Randy Moore
“ 3.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
74.
Safe Haven (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  
A young woman with a mysterious past lands in Southport, North Carolina where her bond with a widower forces her to confront the dark secret that haunts her. (115 mins.)
“ Terrible by all accounts, 'Safe Haven' is yet another Nicholas Sparks novel brought to cinematic life(lessness) by director Lasse Hallstrom. It is a film of many archetypes, all of them tiresome, such as the wholesome community where every neighbor wears a *beep* grin and – my personal favorite – the obviously bad bad guy. Though actor David Lyons never explicitly states it, his performance seems to suggest that what is doing is very unsavory and what he is saying is very menacing. Much of the suspense in 'Safe Haven' is generated not by the action sequences or dramatically intense moments, but rather by waiting for the film’s title to be referred to by one of the characters, which makes for an exciting albeit ultimately disappointing thrill ride. I think that I would also be remiss if I didn’t point out this is one of the few times where Josh Duhamel gives the least awful performance in a film he’s starred in, which, for him, is certainly an acting accomplishment. For me, watching 'Safe Haven' was a truly unpleasant experience, for it was nothing more than a series of poorly-made, -edited, -acted, -directed, and –written scenes punctuated every five minutes or so by me muttering ‘Oh my *beep* God’ under my breath.

3.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
75.
21 & Over (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.9/10 X  
The night before his big medical school interview, a promising student celebrates his 21st birthday with his two best friends. (93 mins.)
“ Miles Teller (aka ‘The Poor Man’s Shia LaBeouf’) plays a confident, hard-partying *beep* in 'The Spectacular Now'; he also plays that same confident, hard-partying *beep* in '21 & Over.' The main difference between the two is that in the former film his character is lovable, sympathetic and easy to relate to; in the latter, he’s just an annoying dickbag. That can be said for a lot of things in '21 & Over.' Lucas and Moore suck every conceivable ounce of decency and kindness out of their characters with their twisted depiction of college life, resulting in a film that’s cold and dirty and mean-spirited. And, on top of that, they seem to think that they’re making the funniest film in all of goddamned history. Teller and the rest of the acting gang (Skylar Astin and that Asian guy from 'Wendy Wu') make wild gestures, poorly reference other (better) movies and walk around buck-naked like they’re doing something groundbreaking; like they’re doing something that’s never been done before. I will laugh if something is genuinely funny, even if the film is godawful in every regard. I didn’t laugh a single time during '21 & Over.' Not once. Not a single time. Not at all. I watched sans laughter.

3.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
76.
Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
As Cecil Gaines serves eight presidents during his tenure as a butler at the White House, the civil rights movement, Vietnam, and other major events affect this man's life, family, and American society. (132 mins.)
Director: Lee Daniels
“ A dull, drab, phony, smug, sanctimonious drama that thinks it's much more inspiring and heartfelt than it actually is. Its muddled visuals and poor costume design suggest that it was made on the cheap, and the recognizable actors who provide brief cameos look less like they want to be there and more like they have to because of a moral obligation. On top of this, the main character, Cecil Gaines, is perhaps the least interesting character in his own story. The film might have worked more if it wasn't so drenched in self-righteousness and self-importance and didn't feel like a slimy piece of propaganda, and had a much more invested and dynamic main character, but it isn't, it does and it doesn't.

3.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
77.
The Hangover Part III (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.9/10 X  
When one of their own is kidnapped by an angry gangster, the Wolf Pack must track down Mr. Chow, who has escaped from prison and is on the run. (100 mins.)
Director: Todd Phillips
“ This tiresome three-quel is bursting at the seams with profanity, crassness, stupidity, violence, mean-spiritedness and everything else that modern movie audiences crave, but it doesn't contain a single second of creativity or talent or even one half-decent joke. I understand that ‘The Hangover Part III’ is meant to be in bad taste, but a movie just can’t survive solely on being raunchy. This tepid, tonally confused, drab-looking bore is so laugh-free and uninspired that it’s pathetic. I mean, for God’s sake, just look at the poster for it. That should tell you enough about what it’s going to be like.

3.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
78.
A Haunted House (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.1/10 X  
Malcolm and Kisha move into their dream home, but soon learn a demon also resides there. When Kisha becomes possessed, Malcolm - determined to keep his sex life on track - turns to a priest, a psychic, and a team of ghost-busters for help. (86 mins.)
Director: Michael Tiddes
“ A film so monotonous, so lazy, so underwhelming that it is only mildly tolerable because of its ‘all-star’ supporting cast, which consists of the likes of Nick Swardson, Cedric the Entertainer, J.B. Smoove, Andrew Daly and David Koechner. (Heavy sarcasm implied, hence the quotation marks.) Don’t watch it with people you hold in high esteem unless those said people have an appreciation for fart/gay/masturbation jokes and (probably) inflicting both mental and physical pain upon themselves. I mean, seriously, just how bad must one film be in order for an appearance from Nick Swardson to be considered a redeeming quality?

3.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
79.
The Lone Ranger (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  
Native American warrior Tonto recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid, a man of the law, into a legend of justice. (150 mins.)
Director: Gore Verbinski
“ Remarkably unremarkable, soulless, overblown, underplotted, bloated, forgettable and boring. Disappointing? Maybe, but my expectations were low even before seeing it. Despite all of this, 'The Lone Ranger' isn't quite as terrible as it could have been. Actually, you know what? No. Nevermind. Strike that. It IS just as terrible and abysmal as it could have been, and probably even a little bit worse than that. It's one of the loudest, most stunningly awful things I've ever seen. 250 million dollars and this is the best you've got, Disney? Really?

3.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
80.
John Dies at the End (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  
A new street drug that sends its users across time and dimensions has one drawback: some people return as no longer human. Can two college dropouts save humankind from this silent, otherworldly invasion? (99 mins.)
Director: Don Coscarelli
“ Don Coscarelli returns from a ten year break after making the best movie of his career to make the worst movie of his career. I don’t exaggerate when I say that ‘John Dies at the End’ is quite unlike any film that you’ve ever seen, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily enjoy it. It shares some of the same likable characteristics of Coscarelli’s previous work, but sadly, they aren’t enough to make enduring the film any easier. What I will say about ‘John Dies at the End’ is that it is original and trippy and it features the kind of hokey special effects that will have you laughing at how unbelievable they are, which I consider to be a good thing. But then if you take into account how incoherent, how poorly-made, how achingly dull and overly eccentric and outlandish (in an awful way) it is, then all of its enjoyable aspects seem irrelevant. The fact that my expectations were so high before seeing it makes me want to second guess myself, but I won’t. I hated it, and I don’t think I’m alone in saying that. Given a bigger budget and more toned-down approach, it could have been something of a cult masterpiece (as it certainly seems tailor-made for a very specific type of audience). But as it is, good God. What a disaster.

3.0/10 ” - steveman1236
 
81.
A Talking Cat!?! (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 2.5/10 X  
A sassy feline helps a family resolve its problems. (85 mins.)
Director: Mary Crawford
“ I know that I shouldn't nitpick about the innumerable problems that 'A Talking Cat!?!' has, but it’s so frustratingly hard not to. It’s like getting angry at a six-year-old for riding his bike too closely to your car in a residential area. You get mad, but after a moment, you let it slide because you realize that he’s just a kid and probably doesn't know any better. Deciding how I truly felt about 'A Talking Cat!?!' was a constant struggle. The film is so staggeringly awful and so unforgivably poorly-made that there’s no conceivable way its creators could have thought otherwise. They just had to know that they were making one of the worst films in existence, yet they went right on ahead with it, and that’s precisely why I felt bad for being so harsh with my criticisms.

Here is a film so desperate that it made me feel sympathetic, and I have to give it credit for doing that. As the film droned on and on, all that I could think about was how depressing it must have been working on the set. I kept picturing the cast and crew struggling to make conversation with one another, their egos having been deflated a long time ago, and it brought me down. It brought me way down. But despite all of this, I can’t deny the simple fact that 'A Talking Cat!?!' is awful and ill-advised and bunch of other insulting synonyms, and for this it cannot be forgiven. Everything ranging from the cheap set décor to the awkward performances to the unnecessarily overlong establishing shots is hilariously misjudged and terrible in a way that must be seen to be believed. None of the characters seem to be impressed or astounded or even remotely confused that a cat is speaking to them, whereas any regular, moderately sane person would lose their *beep*

And you can practically smell the cocaine that Eric Roberts was doing while recording his voice-over, which was probably done via webcam.

1.5/10 ” - steveman1236
 
82.
Movie 43 (2013)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 4.3/10 X  
A series of interconnected short films follows a washed-up producer as he pitches insane story lines featuring some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. (94 mins.)
“ I don’t hate 'Movie 43' because that would be giving it too much credit. I don’t think that it’s offensive because that would be giving it too much credit. I don’t even think that it is one of the worst movies ever made because, again, that would be giving it too much credit. That would imply that it inspired some sort of emotion to stir within me, which it didn’t. I felt nothing. I didn’t laugh. I didn’t get angry. For an hour and a half, I watched as countless big-name actors embarrassed themselves without a single expression on my face. Did they in fact embarrass themselves? They signed up for the film. They took the money they were offered. They knew what they were doing. They obviously didn’t feel as though they were being degraded, but that’s how it seems. Hugh Jackman has been in bad films. Kate Winslet has been in bad films. Even Greg Kinnear has been in bad films. But they have not been in films like ‘Movie 43’ before, and that raises the following question: ‘Are they that desperate?’ I understand that the life of an actor is hard, but this hard? God, I mean, you wouldn’t believe some of the things that the film requires them do, and the fact that they do them will make you seriously question their moral values. Really. ‘Movie 43’ is a truly disturbing film, but not for the reasons you might think. Its gags are repulsive, yes, but how or why it was ever made is much more unsettling. It makes you think about the state that the world is headed in. I mean, if a film like this can be produced (let alone get a theatrical release) then what does the future hold in store for us? I’m not just talking about cinema here; I’m talking about the human race in general. Are we such a degenerate and vacuous people that this passes as entertainment? Are there people out there that laughed at this for even a second? I understand that not everyone watches films for their artistic merit. I understand that ‘8½’ and ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but this? Is this what people are into nowadays? If so, that’s sad. That’s really disappointing. Humanity, I had much more faith invested in you.

0.5/10 ” - steveman1236