Tom Cruise leads a sturdy cast alongside an ass-kicking Emily Blunt as a near-future PR flack thrust into an offensive against some nasty aliens, who resets to the beginning every time he dies. The Groundhog Day comparisons may be inevitable, but this clever, funny, gripping sci-fi saga stands on its own.
The worst movie I saw at TIFF last fall, Zack Parker’s thriller about the turmoil surrounding an expectant mother who’s brutally attacked is a facile, generally less-than thrilling treatment of a real disorder. Beyond a nail-biting opening and some visual niceties, it’s little more than bland performances and dime store psycho-theatrics.
Liza Johnson’s Alice Munro adaptation sees Kristen Wiig surrender herself to the role of a mousy, lonely caretaker who finds a new life in an act of cruelty. A testament to the actress’ gifts and the character’s resilience, this unrushed, unusual romantic drama will probably disappear quickly, so see it now.
From an absurd fantasy premise (Laid-off middle-aged bookseller starts new life as hired stud!) John Turturro crafts a truly sweet and charming movie about desire, obligation and the spectrum of human need. He also gives Sharon Stone and Woody Allen the best parts they’ve had in years.
Seth Rogen’s latest has its funny bits, and some more substance than you’d expect from the young parents-vs-frat guys premise. But when it’s not bringing laughs or touching on coming-of-adulthood fears, it’s uncomfortably awkward. And Rogen and his bros still need to grow up when it comes to women’s bodily workings.
Thanks to the fabulous Alexis Perrone and Outlook, I got a chance to check out a screening of The Case Against 8 at the Cleveland International Film Festival sponsored by the LGBT mag. So I figured I may as well make a night of it.
Case follows the four-year legal effort to overturn California’s Prop. 8, which started in the state’s courtrooms and worked its way up to the Supreme Court through the dogged appeals efforts of the discriminatory law’s proponents. Centering on the two couples chosen to act as plaintiffs in the civil lawsuit and the two lawyers taking the lead - former opponents in the historic Bush v. Gore case - the movie suffers a bit from the last-minute decision not to allow cameras into the California courtroom. But in the coverage of counselor Ted Olsen and the defendant’s key witness, it offers two compelling examples of just how powerful a tool knowledge is in eradicating prejudice. I sure as hell never expected to end up rooting for the guy who gave us President George W. Bush.
From there, I checked out Handy, a movie about a hand that breaks free of its human host, travels the world and falls in love with a fashionable appendage named Manicure. Because yes. Made on the super-cheap by an Italian spitfire named Vincenzo Cosentino, who wore multiple hats including lead actor (that’s his hand in the title role), it’s got a goofy low-fi flavor that’s irresistibly charming even when it comes with a sprinkling of cheese. Same for Cosentino, who, like his movie, was laugh-out-loud funny. During the Q&A, he professed his love for Tim Burton and said he wanted to make a movie that would keep audiences guessing. Mission accomplished.
I made it through most of the Late Night Shorts program before the old highway was a-callin’. The horror-centric selection was a bit heavy on incidents of mistaken identity but stronger overall than programs I’ve seen in previous years at CIFF. The animated Dave Eggers adaptation Francis from England, the genially disturbing French film Guys Girls and Australia’s Hungry Man, a story of a man and his tapeworm, are worth going out of your way to find.
I promised a friend I’d do this weeks ago and kept putting it off, partly because it was a good enough year to make winnowing the year’s best movies down to 10. But at long last, prompted by tonight’s Oscar telecast, the ballot I put together for my first-year participation in The Muriel Awards and the repeat airing of the Independent Spirit Awards currently on my TV, I submit to you a list of my favorite movies of 2013.
1. Upstream Color: Shane Carruth’s defiantly strange fantasy/romance/horror film is more than a movie. It’s a semi-hypnotic sensory experience that doesn’t fade quickly, even if (perhaps especially if) it doesn’t immediately make sense.
2. Inside Llewyn Davis
3. The Act of Killing
5. Stories We Tell
6. The Wolf of Wall Street
7. 12 Years a Slave
8. Before Midnight
9. The World’s End
10. Frances Ha
Honorable mention: All The Memory in the World, an exhaustive, endearing survey of photo portraiture in cinema by Columbus’ own Mike Olenick. No one does movie obsession like he does.