Thursday, December 26, 2013

Nebraska, Saving Mr. Banks, American Hustle, Wolf of Wall Street

It's almost the end of 2013 and I'm basically cramming for my Top Ten of the Year right now.  I'm just going to give a paragraph per film, because I'm simultaneously working on the aforementioned top ten and my annual superlatives list, plus all the "real life" stuff I have to do.  So, here, quickly, are some reviews.  I'll probably have one more of these "quickie" grab bag posts before the end of the year, so look out!

Dir. Alexander Payne

Alexander Payne's beautiful and bleak black and white Nebraska is a fantastic look at a depressed region, where the meaning of life stops at the make and model of the car you're driving.  The 77-year-old Bruce Dern delivers a career-best performance, which deservedly earned him the Best Actor award at Cannes, as the alcoholic Woody Grant, who in his state of dementia believes a million dollars awaits him in Lincoln, Nebraska because of a scam flyer he got in the mail.  I wasn't sure who in the cast were actors or just real-life yokels taken from their corn silos to shoot a film; Nebraska is authentic, strangely heartwarming, tragic, and hilarious at the same time.  The definitive tragi-comedy of the year.

                                                            Rating: A-

Saving Mr. Banks
Dir. John Lee Hancock

Walt Disney had notoriously fought with PL Travers, the original author of Mary Poppins, for years trying to get the rights for the film.  Saving Mr. Banks is the "Disney-fied," sentimental re-telling of that struggle, complete with unnecessary flashbacks and a sickeningly sweet score.  Although Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks give great performances, the film is too light for its own good, and a subject this interesting is more deserving of a well-produced documentary than a narrative tale about father figures.

Rating: C+

American Hustle
Dir. David O. Russell

With one of the best-assembled cast lists in a film this year (Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, and two "surprise" roles I won't divulge so as not to spoil them), I was pretty excited for this film, but I have to say this was a complete disappointment to me.  Maybe it's just me, but I found it to be unnecessarily hard to follow, I never really got into this story, and the "twist" at the end was lame and broadcasted a mile away.  Besides one of the aforementioned "surprise" actors, the only actor that I felt fit the role was Christian Bale.  Jennifer Lawrence's New York accent felt really unnatural to me and Amy Adam's faux British dialect didn't connect at all (don't mistake this for "bad acting," I just think it was miscast).  I'm not really sure what the critics are seeing that I'm not, but I thought this was tough to sit through.  It's a movie about con men - an overcrowded subgenre that has seen better.

Rating: C-

Wolf of Wall Street
Dir. Martin Scorsese

Leonardo DiCaprio has never been better in Scorsese's latest, taking the structure of Goodfellas and applying it to Wall Street 1%-ers.  The film is his freshest in years, and the 3 hour run time goes by quickly.  This big and excessive film reflects the big and excessive lives led by these ecclectic stock brokers, who got their start scamming people into buying penny stocks and working their way up.  The film is simultaneously hilarious and disturbing, sexy and ugly, and it couldn't have been released in a more relevant time than now.  DiCaprio is an absolute force of nature in this film, and I believe he deserves to win the Academy Award for the role (if he's not nominated there is something seriously wrong).  Loved the film, though some of the "excess" may get in the way of your enjoyment of the movie.

Rating: A-

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