Here are my Top five movies of 2013 .
Cloud Atlas http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWnAqFyaQ5s
David Mitchell’s Booker-nominated 2004 novel ‘Cloud Atlas’ was a zeitgeist-grabber, but it always seemed a touch self-important, eager to ‘transcend’ its genre elements – comedy, sci-fi, mystery – as though Mitchell’s ambitions were somehow more worthwhile than his sources. The movie version has no such pretensions: in the hands of ‘Matrix’ directors the Wachowskis and ‘Run Lola Run’ helmer Tom Tykwer, ‘Cloud Atlas’ has become a technicolour explosion of a movie, an insanely ambitious, gorgeously realised and totally enthralling image-rush, which bounds from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again in the space of a heartbeat.
There are six stories here, spanning time (from 1849 to 2321) and distance (the Pacific islands to Edinburgh to ‘Neo Seoul’). The characters are linked only by a recurring comet-shaped birthmark, and the fact that they’re played by a revolving repertory company of familiar actors, led by Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and an impressive gaggle of notable British thesps.
This results in some of the most bizarre and borderline offensive casting choices in movie history: Hanks is terrific as an English doctor and an American scientist, but struggles as a rampaging Irish gangster-turned-author; Berry is perfect as a crusading Californian journalist but her appearance as a German-Jewish refugee is just creepy; Hugh Grant delivers the film’s juiciest turn as an oily power plant executive, but when he turns up as a tattooed futuristic cannibal warrior, the only appropriate response is laughter.
In a departure from the novel, all six stories are placed concurrently, and the result is a masterclass in cross-cutting. There’s not an ounce of fat here: each story has its own momentum, but thanks to a relentless series of cliffhangers and coincidences each tale also serves to drive the others forward, deepening the tension and resonance at every turn. The cumulative effect is unique and often breathtaking.
There are those who argue that ‘Cloud Atlas’ is undisciplined, overambitious and very silly. All of this is true, but when in epic cinema have those qualities been a hindrance? This is a movie which cuts from spry comedy in an Edinburgh old folks’ home to an eyepopping flying car chase in futuristic Korea without breaking stride; a film which casts Hugo Weaving as a Nazi conductor, a bleach-blond contract killer, a big-breasted nurse and Old Greg from ‘The Mighty Boosh’; a film which piles on the action, the romance, the philosophical inquiry and the silly accents until the viewer is left punch-drunk and reeling. Seriously, what’s not to love?
Nothing short of the resurrection of Heath Ledger as the Joker could fully sate fanboy appetites for the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. But it’s not Ledger’s spectre that haunts the The Dark Knight Rises. Instead, it’s the fear of failure; specifically, Nolan’s.
The Hollywood landfill is full of failed third acts in movie series and there’s a sense of bare knuckle resolve in Dark Knight Rises that emanates from a brilliant filmmaker determined not to fall prey to the curse of three. You feel that determination in every frame, every note in Hans Zimmer’s elegiac score, in all the performances, and in a film that doesn’t want to end until there is nothing left.
This fear of failure is palpable, as Nolan empties himself of everything he has as a writer-director into his movie. As Catwoman tells Batman, “You don’t owe these people anymore. You’ve given them everything.” The same could be said of Nolan and this film and to the franchise.
The Dark Knight Rises is not only the most ambitious superhero film ever put to screen, it’s also the grimmest.
The Batman movies from the late 1980s and 1990s began as a gritty interpretation of the masked vigilante hero of Gotham, but creative concessions caused them to devolve into comic affairs, vacuous and justifiably dismissed. Nolan’s trilogy is born of similarly dark origins, only growing bleaker and more serious minded by the second installment and utterly funereal by the third, literally casting its broken hero into a pit of desperation and death.
This isn’t the Batman and Bruce Wayne we left from The Dark Knight. Now eight years later, Wayne (Christian Bale) is a ghostly visage of a billionaire playboy. His Batman took the fall for the death of Gotham’s White Knight, District Attorney Harvey Dent, and his former ally’s descent into madness and murder, and quietly disappeared into the darkness as a wanted criminal. With Batman’s apparent retirement, the soul of Wayne is in a state of decay. He’s a never-seen recluse in his empty mansion, leading to all manner of Howard Hughes rumors. Bale’s Wayne is emotionally bereft, a discarded soul resigned to a world in which Batman is no longer needed or wanted.
Gotham has moved beyond its vigilante hero, spurred by a new law named in honor of Dent to more quickly and easily round up criminals. The city’s mayor proudly parades the success of the Dent Act as a political tool for his reelection, while Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) is conflicted by the truth — that Dent was corrupted and not worthy of the honor, and that the city’s shiny present and future is a farce built on a lie.
While Batman is no longer needed in this make-believe world of low crime, it’s a terrifying new villain, Bane (Tom Hardy), a bald mountain of flesh and brawn and steely intellect sporting a strange breathing mask, who brings Batman out of retirement.
Years of bruising fights and falls from dangerous heights have exacted a heavy toll on Wayne; there are signs of head trauma, and the lack of cartilage in one leg requires him to walk with a cane. It’s this kind of real-world authenticity that considers the physical price of being a superhero — even in a movie about a billionaire armed with high-tech and expensive gadgets, armor, and vehicles to fight crime — that separate Nolan’s Batman from other comic-book films.
Bane wants to lead a revolt in the city, the haves against the have-nots. And as he makes his terrorist plots against the ruling class from his subterranean lair, Batman prepares for their showdown, one he knows he can’t win.
Newcomers to the film include an earnest young cop named John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a former orphan who shares a similar background to Wayne and understands his private pain, and Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway).
Wayne has a fateful encounter with Kyle, a stealthy burglar with impressive fighting skills, as she tries to steal from him. But theirs will be a complicated relationship, with Wayne sensing more to Selina than the criminal past she’s desperate to have erased. Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate is a cursory character whose worth to the film is proven by the final act. Bane was the wise choice by Nolan as the film’s villain, the antitheses of the Joker as a creature of brute force and bone-snapping strength. Impressive camera tricks and effects afford the 5-foot-10-inch Hardy a taller, more imposing frame than in real life, and he delivers a strong but not overplayed performance. Unfortunately, as the film’s early trailers suggested, the actor’s Shakespearean delivery is occasionally victimized by the mask, with several lines of dialogue unintelligible.
But this film isn’t about Hardy. The Dark Knight Rises is Bale’s film, with the Wayne-Batman arc brought to a rousing conclusion.
If Batman Begins is about Wayne finding himself through Batman, The Dark Knight Rises is about Wayne losing himself when Batman is absent.
This leads to an emotional confrontation between Wayne and his butler/father figure Alfred (Michael Caine), and a heart-aching confession much later. Frankly, there’s more soul in these two moments of The Dark Knight Rises than anything found in The Avengers, a film focused solely on popcorn thrills and giddy audience pleasure — and succeeding wildly at both — rather than taking chances.
The Dark Knight Rises is all about risks, and there are payoffs and failures to go with it. This is a somber, bruising finale to the series that smashes the mold of what blockbuster entertainment can be; yet, it will test audience patience with a running time 15 minutes shy of three hours — with too much of those minutes wasted before the film fully engages moviegoers.
The Dark Knight Rises is absolute proof that great movies can come in threes. If this is a misfire, then it is a spectacular one.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Blu-ray/DVD + UltraViolet Digital Copy Combo Pack)
The first hour of the ultimately satisfying “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is purely setup.
It entails dwarf and hobbit history, ample exposition and the long process of coaxing hobbit-hole homebody Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) into joining 13 warrior dwarves in a quest to reclaim a lost dwarf kingdom.
It takes that same hour for a viewer to acclimate to the movie’s higher frame rate – 48 frames per second, double the 24-frames-per-second rate of other movies.
Joined with 3-D, the high frame rate, or HFR (available in some theaters; most will show the movie at 24 frames per second in 3-D or 2-D) is supposed to produce crisper images and less blur.
It does. But that does not mean the visuals are revolutionary in appearance. “An Unexpected Journey” resembles a videotaped stage play broadcast on PBS or the BBC. People are vivid, but so are costumes and backdrops, lending the whole thing a stagey quality until your eye and mind adjust to the format.
The movie’s first act assumes a getting-to-know-you quality on a few levels. Thus, it brings an awareness of moviemaking that distracts from the story of “Unexpected Journey,” based on the J.R.R. Tolkien novel and set 60 years before “The Lord of the Rings.”
But as anyone who marveled or harrumphed at the multiple endings to “Return of the King” can attest, Peter Jackson is a filmmaker of many, many acts.
“Unexpected Journey,” the first of three Jackson “Lord of the Rings” prequels based on “The Hobbit” novel, runs nearly three hours. That gives Jackson, returning to Middle-Earth nine years after completing his “Rings” movie trilogy, plenty of time to revive its magic.
He revives it by triggering our good will toward the “Rings” trilogy. He evokes the trilogy’s tone and its rhythms.
“An Unexpected Journey,” like the “Rings” films, offers camaraderie among scruffy heroes on a quest, perilous ledge-walking and ledge-hanging, and battles with seemingly unstoppable villains composed of flesh and/or landscape come to life.
The action scenes are beautifully choreographed, and the higher frame rate sometimes makes them easier to follow, as Jackson intended. These scenes also – despite Bilbo’s cuteness and the film’s children’s-book origins – can be brutal.
But Jackson offsets the movie’s overall intensity with a red-horizon visit to the elven kingdom of Rivendell. There, Bilbo and the dwarves find New Age-y respite among the elves, who are as pretty, serene and blah as ever.
But the most welcome reappearance is by Gollum, the giant-eyed obsessive made so lifelike in the “Rings” movies by computer-generated imagery and the movement and voice work of actor Andy Serkis.
Gollum has benefited more than any other aspect of “An Unexpected Journey” from advances in filmmaking technology over the past decade. The character is even more emotive and agile than in the “Rings” movies. His scenes are amazing.
As Bilbo, Freeman makes a fine entry point for the audience. Freeman lends his hobbit character a touch of the self-awareness and self-effacement he brought to Tim, his character on the British “The Office.” Bilbo is relatable because Freeman’s expressions show us how uncomfortable, if also necessary, it is to take risks in one’s life.
Richard Armitage ably fills the Viggo Mortensen handsome-warrior role as Thorin Oakenshield, the tough, determined dwarf leader.
Not too long after you get past the frame-rate issues and warm up to “An Unexpected Journey,” awareness arrives that the “Hobbit” film trilogy itself is just warming up. Given that the novel runs only 300 pages, the prospect of six more hours of movie does not exactly get the blood pumping.
But Jackson and his fellow screenwriters have tapped 125 pages of notes and appendices Tolkien made to “The Hobbit” after its publication. Plus, Jackson always rewards patience, and as the director of high-quality films ranging from “Heavenly Creatures” to “King Kong” to this one, he also warrants audience confidence.
“Amour” is a must-see film that not everyone must see, at least right now.
Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke’s meticulous, superbly crafted portrait of an elderly couple facing the end of life chronicles a chapter that many viewers either have experienced or are confronting themselves. They don’t need to be reminded of the unconsoling truths Haneke brings to light — about illness, decline, devotion and grief. Indeed, the ideal audience for “Amour” might be those lucky, head-over-heels young couples on the cusp of saying “Till death do us part.” Here’s what you’re in for, kids.
Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play Georges and Anne, retired music teachers who lead a life of understated refinement in Paris. As “Amour” opens, Georges and Anne attend a piano recital, ending the evening in their well-appointed apartment. They’re a “nation of two,” as a poet once described marriage, secure in the companionable rhythms they’ve composed over decades of shared intimacy and tastes.
Soon thereafter, things begin to fall apart, as a series of small slips launch the couple on an agonizing downward slide. Although their daughter (played by Isabelle Huppert) occasionally visits, it’s clear that the couple have built their own tender, civilized bulwark that serves not only as a source of strength against the outside world, but also one of loneliness and, eventually, quiet desperation.
One of the most painful things about “Amour” isn’t just watching vibrancy give way to senescence — complete with diapers, feedings and wordless moanings. It’s how, for all their culture and cosmopolitanism, Georges and Anne have so few social resources to draw on, in the form of family or friends. This world view isn’t terribly surprising coming from Haneke, whose past films include “Funny Games” and “The White Ribbon.” He’s a notoriously gimlet-eyed filmmaker whose austere style and facile pessimism often has been mistaken for philosophical depth.
But with “Amour,” Haneke seems to be making a genuine step toward humanism, tempering his usual chilly sense of superiority with discretion and empathy. He’s still a rigorous formalist and intellectual — witness one of the film’s first shots, wherein the film’s audience watches another audience on screen. That sequence presages “Amour’s” shattering climactic moments, when the notion of voyeurism and cruelty becomes inextricably mixed up with suffering, relief and an almost spiritual sense of sacrifice. Haneke has eased his tendency to torture the audience for no good reason, and he’s aided immeasurably by the indelible, magnificently expressive performances of Trintignant and Riva, both of whom were galvanizing romantic leads in their prime — Trintignant in “The Conformist,” Riva in “Hiroshima, Mon Amour.”
Watching Trintignant and Riva up close, with such transformed screen personae, gives “Amour” added power as a slice of time-lapsed cinematic history. Haneke has made a film that is beautiful and horrifying, moving and confounding, profoundly moral and deeply troubling — in other words, a movie that is utterly worthy of its all-encompassing title.
The safest thing one could say about “Django Unchained” is that it finds Quentin Tarantino hurtling over the top yet again by juxtaposing the horrors of slavery with an absurdist, horse-opera buffa plot that quotes from all sorts of movies, including his own, with special emphasis on spaghetti westerns. But the film doesn’t play it safe, so neither will I. Instead, I’ll say that it finds Mr. Tarantino perched improbably but securely on the top of a production that’s wildly extravagant, ferociously violent, ludicrously lurid and outrageously entertaining, yet also, remarkably, very much about the pernicious lunacy of racism and, yes, slavery’s singular horrors.
Jamie Foxx is Django, a slave on a Southern chain gang two years before the Civil War. At first Django doesn’t have much to do but be chained and smolder with rage. (Eventually that changes with a vengeance when revenge becomes the pivot of the plot.) The star of the movie’s early stretches is Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz, a bounty hunter who travels the country in the guise of a dentist, which he once was—his wagon is surmounted by a charmingly ridiculous bobbletooth—until he figured out how to make big bucks. Like slavery, Schultz says, bounty hunting “is a flesh-for-cash business.”
It should be acknowledged that Mr. Waltz is doing a tone-for-tone reprise of Col. Hans Landa, the monstrous Nazi he played in Mr. Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds.” Just as Landa did, the gleefully predatory Schultz deploys lofty language in presenting himself as the soul of sweet reason. He’s courtly and cheerful, except when he’s being cheerfully bestial. Repetition may be the most shameless form of self-flattery, but it’s still good to see Mr. Waltz doing his act again; his elegantly modulated whimsy is one of the wonders of the acting world.
What turns an almost-one-man show into an increasingly tense trackdown-and-revenge thriller is a bargain struck between bounty hunter and slave. Schultz will buy Django, unchain him and eventually set him free if Django, using his hard-won knowledge of the countryside and its denizens, will become Schultz’s deputy and help him find three particularly murderous, and potentially lucrative, brothers.
The deal takes the two hunters to a notorious plantation called Candyland, and takes the story into a wickedly astute parody of antebellum drama, with all of its lace and grace and happy slaves. This place is owned by a pretentious fool named Calvin Candie (a deliciously expansive Leonardo DiCaprio), but it’s run by a fatefully shrewd house slave named Stephen; he’s played by Samuel L. Jackson with surreal jubilance and deadly precision, a huge achievement in a relatively small role. The deal also sets up the movie’s most felicitous invention, the revelation that Candyland’s slaves include Django’s long-lost wife, a German-speaking beauty named Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Why does Broomhilda speak German? Well, if she didn’t, Mr. Tarantino couldn’t fold the Siegfried and Brunhilde myth into his mashup, and draw a bitterly ironic parallel between Candyland and Valhalla.
Bitter irony may not sound like the key ingredient in such a free-for-all burlesque. “Django Unchained,” which has not one but two blow-out endings, is overlong—energy is lost when the narrative loses track of Django’s quest for his wife—and it will surely be too blood-bespattered for many moviegoers. Yet this seriously crazed comedy is also a crazily serious disquisition on enslavement, and how it has been portrayed over the years and decades by slaves to Hollywood. The production was designed by J. Michael Riva, and photographed by Robert Richardson. The cast includes Don Johnson and, in a cameo, Franco Nero, who played a coffin-dragging drifter named Django in an old spaghetti western of the same name