Tag Archives: 2013

Top 100 Films #75 – Short Term 12 (2013)

 

186#75. Short Term 12 (2013)
Directed by: Destin Daniel Cretton
Written by: Destin Daniel Cretton
Starring: Brie Larson, John Gallagher, Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Rami Malek, Keith Stanfield, Kevin Hernandez, Melora Walters

Before she won an Academy Award for last year’s phenomenal Room, Brie Larson was slumming it in mostly smaller supporting roles – largely comedic and independent films.  2013’s Short Term 12 gave the young star a chance to finally play a leading character, which she did expertly.  Director Destin Daniel Cretton based the film on an earlier short film of the same name, and took many elements of the story from his personal experiences working in teenage group homes.  This is evident in every single frame of Short Term 12 – every minute feels genuine and heartfelt, but never overly-sentimental.  The film sees Grace (Brie Larson) as the supervisor of Short Term 12, a group home for troubled teenagers.  We see her interactions with her coworkers, including her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.) and newbie Nate (Rami Malek), as well as with a number of the troubled youths living in the home.  Along the way she battles her own mental illness problems, as well as the perils faced by many of her charges, including neglectful parents, drug problems, and self-harm.  I remember the first time I saw Short Term 12, crying and laughing through much of the run-time, and then immediately watching it again multiple times over the following days and weeks.  It’s a film I think of often, and one that affects me every single time I see it – even though there are no surprises left for me to find.  Brie Larson’s Grace is a perfect lead character for a project like this – selfless, caring, and deeply affected by the events of her past.  The name Grace perfectly sums up Brie Larson’s challenging and fragile performance as Short Term 12’s central character.  Without Larson at its helm, Cretton’s film may very well have been a footnote in 2013.  Luckily, Cretton’s down to earth and relatable script combined with his energetic – but restrained – filmmaking, perfectly complements Larson’s performance and creates a truly special film.  If you’ve never seen Short Term 12, I urge you to do so immediately.  

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The Hunt (2013)

ImageThe Hunt (2013)

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Writer: Tobias Lindholm, Thomas Vinterberg

Starring: Mads Mikkelson, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp

Rating: 93% Fresh

Views: 1st Viewing

Thomas Vinterberg, uncredited director of the highly acclaimed and groundbreaking Dogme 95 film Festen, has done it once again.  The Hunt is his latest effort, and it’s certainly one for the ages.  The film follows Mads Mikkelsen’s Lucas, a quiet, mostly-single schoolteacher working with young children in what seems to be a pre-school of sorts.  The film follows Lucas’ life as he plays with the children, befriends a woman at his school, and goes hunting and drinking with his long-time friends.  After a pivotal moment in the film, Lucas’ world is turned completely upside down, and things will never, ever be the same for him.  After his best friends daughter lies about the man, Lucas is accused by the head of the school of extreme behaviour with one of the children he teaches, and eventually ousted by his community.  He is no longer welcome to teach, to go to the grocery store, or to see his young son who is in the care of his ex-wife.  Lucas and members of his family try proving him innocent to the locals, but some are more stubborn than others.

The Hunt is one of the most gripping and gut-wrenching dramas to be released in 2013, making it easily one of the best and most important films of the year thus far.  The film deals with the subjects of pedophilia, gang mentality, and the idea of a man being “guilty until proven innocent” with the utmost care, the-hunt-movie-photonever exploiting its subject for even a moment.  The sensitive and provocative writing by Vinterberg and co-writer Tobias Lindhom (2012’s A Hijacking) is without a doubt one of the highlights of The Hunt, and something that ties the film perfectly together.  Thomas Vinterberg’s direction in the film is incredible, with every scene demanding a different style of camera movement and atmosphere.  The way Vinterberg moves his camera in some moments is almost Terrence Malick-esque, and his still and close-up shots feel incredibly personal, but never intrusive.  Vinterberg’s writing and direction are some of the best I’ve seen all year, but aren’t even the highlight of this amazing film.

Mads Mikkelsen’s performance as the schoolteacher Lucas is incredible in every sense.  Mikkelsen has always been regarded as a talented actor, but The Hunt is the role where this was confirmed without a shadow of a doubt.  Lucas’ character is one who is confused, scared, and hurt by the behaviour of his former friends and acquaintances.  Mikkelsen has many beautiful moments where not a word is said, and incredibly commanding and powerful moments when they are called for.  The supporting cast, specifically Thomas Bo Larsen as Lucas’ best friend and father of the young girl and accidental accuser, Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), is every bit as amazing as Mikkelsen is here.  Theo is a confused and devastated father of a girl who may have been abused, and he is perfect in every moment he has on screen.  Mads Mikkelson and Thomas Bo Larsen show just how amazing their chemistry is in the many scenes they share, and are without a doubt the highlight of The Hunt.

The Hunt is an incredibly powerful and emotional experience, and because of The-Hunt-Moviethat it’s one of the most provocative and important films of the year 2013, and of the 2010’s in general.  The film deals with incredibly difficult subjects like gang mentality and extremist behaviour, making the audience feel sick to their stomach for the acts being perpetrated on screen.  These elements make the film a very mature and thought-provoking experience, and that may not be for everybody.  The writing, direction, and acting are all impeccable, making The Hunt the best film of the year so far without a doubt.  If you’re interested in a tense, gripping, highly emotional film, look nowhere else.  The Hunt is my favourite film of the year so far, and one I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anybody. 9.5 (9.75)/10.

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Spring Breakers (2013)

spring-breakers-poster-1Spring Breakers (2013)

Director: Harmony Korine

Writer: Harmony Korine

Starring: Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, James Franco

Runtime: 94 minutes

Rating: 65% Fresh

Views: 1st Viewing (June 30, 2013)

Spring Breakers is Harmony Korine’s incredible controversial and divisive follow-up to his 2009 horror experiment Trash Humpers.  Spring Breakers follows young college students Faith (Selena Gomez), Brittany (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), and Cotty (Rachel Korine, wife of director Harmony) as they travel to Florida to take part in yearly spring break activities. Before they set out on their trip however, they need to somehow earn money for the trip, so the four girls brutally rob a fast food restaurant.  After being arrested at a party in Florida, the mysterious rapper Alien (James Franco) bails the young girls out of jail, and the five head back to the home of eccentric and charismatic, but rather cowardly, Alien.  After the group slowly begins to drift apart, Alien and the remaining girls plan a raid on Alien’s rival drug-dealer, Big Arch (played by rapper Gucci Mane).

Spring Breakers certainly isn’t a film for most audiences.  It’s incredibly raw and alive, bringing the viewer into its world of crime and debauchery, but the film never manages to feel shallow or excessive.  Korine’s wonderful direction and cinematography perfectly brings to life the glossy, warm, and grimy worldspring_breakers_a_h of Florida’s spring break celebrations, making it one of the greatest elements of the film.  Harmony Korine’s pacing and direction throughout the film make this a truly unique viewing experience.  The film is comparable to something like Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, but on ecstasy.  It’s a world that is easy to immerse yourself in, and one that may even hypnotize the viewer in a lot of ways.  Korine manages to say a little and a lot at the same time with his wonderful screenplay, never outright criticizing or praising its subjects.  The film serves as both a subtle celebration and criticism of our youth, and its sometime morbid fascination with wild parties, experimenting with drugs and crime.  Despite the subject matter at hand, Spring Breakers does present some hope throughout the film.  Selena Gomez’s aptly named Faith serves as our “innocent” character, as does Rachel Korine’s Cotty in a smaller way.  Spring Breakers features one of the most interesting and widely-debated screenplays of the year, and for good reason.

Aside from Korine’s wonderful direction, cinematography and screenplay, Spring Breakers features multiple incredible performances from its principal cast.  Director Harmony Korine wisely casted former Disney screen-queens spring-breakers-james-francoSelena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, and young actress Ashley Benson in incredibly brave roles.  Gomez does a competent job as Faith, and Hudgens’ performance was one of my favorite things about the entire film.  Hudgens has the unique skill of being able to play both completely innocent characters, and wild, party-going ones too.  Her range is really displayed throughout the film.  The highlight for critics and audiences worldwide is James Franco’s performance as Alien, the drug-dealing gangster rapper.  Franco’s appearance and mannerisms are completely transformed for the role, and he puts in one of the greatest supporting performances of the decade.  If James Franco isn’t at least considered for a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the end of the year, it will go down as one of the categories greatest snubs of all-time.

Spring Breakers is a hypnotizing, divisive film that not everybody will love or even understand.  This isn’t a film that completely celebrates the live-for-the-weekend mentality or exploits its subjects.  It’s a film of great complexity, and will likely be looked back as one of the most hotly-debated films of 2013.  For my money, the best film of the year thus far.  Spring break forever.  9.5/10.

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Side Effects (2013)

SideEffects-exclusive-lgSide Effects (2013)

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Writer: Scott Z. Burns

Starring: Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum

Runtime: 106 minutes

Rating: 84%

Views: 1st Viewing

Coming hot off 2012’s incredibly underrated and hugely misinterpreted by the vast majority of its target audience, Magic Mike, Steven Soderbergh seemed like he was on top of the world, which is just when the news of his imminent retirement came.  Side Effects and HBO’s TV film Behind the Candelabra were set to be his last directorial films ever.  The prospect of a film like Side Effects being Soderbergh’s last seemed exciting to some, and like a missed opportunity to others.  The good news here is that Soderbergh knocked this one out of the park in every aspect.  Side Effects is about a young woman called Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) who is clinically depressed after her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) returns home from prison for insider trading.  Emily has several suicide attempts and emotional episodes before her psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) prescribes her a new drug called Ablixa.  Emily responds to the new drug and her psychological state seems to improve tenfold, until the side effects of the drug are discovered.  Ablixa puts Emily into a sleepwalking state on various occasions, one of which ends with the death of her husband.  Doctor Banks decides to investigate the case further, putting both his career and his family on the line, and eventually stumbles upon answers nobody expects to rise to the surface.

Viewing Side Effects for the first-time ever was like an emotional roller-coaster in every way.  The film is one of the most thrilling experiences I’ve had watching a film in a very, very long time, and it’s boosted by an incredible script by screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, side-effects06who also wrote Soderbergh’s Contagion and The Informant!  Burns’ script explores ideas like North America’s dependency on prescription drugs, delves into the world of psychology, and explores a heavy issue in clinical depression.  The screenplay tackles these themes and topics with the utmost maturity and respect, never exploiting these important aspects of the script.  Soderbergh’s last theatrical film is beautiful in its cinematography and intricate camera movements, both of which are handled by the director himself.  The film is both gritty and glossy in a way that few visionary directors can make work.

The acting in Side Effects is where the film goes above and beyond its strong screenplay and expert direction, featuring great performances from the entire principal cast.  Jude Law has not been this good in a film in years, vastly improving upon his weak performance in Soderbergh’s Contagion.  Rooney Mara shows why she is going to be a vOdUH9yforce to be reckoned with in the future, giving a great performance as Emily Taylor, balancing clinical depression with everyday housewife.  If Mara’s career continues on this path, the Academy Award nominated actress is going to have a very bright future ahead of her.  Both Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones have shown that they are legitimate actors in the past, and both shine in what little screen-time they are given in Side Effects.  Tatum is believable as the former inside trader, and Zeta-Jones as a devious doctor.  Not only was it was a delight to see the principal cast of the film work their magic, but it was great to see the very talented Ann Dowd (of last years Compliance) in the film, as Martin’s mother.

In the future when fans look back on the career of Steven Soderbergh, Side Effects is going to be looked at as one of the director’s greatest moments.  It combines everything Soderbergh was good at: suspense, incredibly taut direction, excellent casting choices, and incredible cinematography all in one great crime thriller.  Side Effects is the best film of 2013 thus far.  9.5/10.

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Behind the Candelabra (2013)

behind-the-candelabra-posterBehind the Candelabra (2013)

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Writer: Richard LaGravenese

Starring: Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Rob Lowe

Runtime: 118 minutes

Rating: 93% Fresh

Views: 1st Viewing

Steven Soderbergh is one Hollywood’s most diverse, most successful, and most talented directors of the last 30+ years, and his announcement concerning his nearing retirement took the film world by shock.  The one-time Best Director winner decided for his last theatrical film to be 2013’s Side Effects, and that Behind the Candelabra, an HBO film, would be his farewell to the world of film direction.  Soderbegh’s official last film made it’s debut at Cannes (in competition for the Palme d’Or, no less) to a very respectable critical reaction, making his swan song a complete success.  Behind the Candelabra is based on the book of the same name, written by Scott Thorson, and is about Scott’s former lover, virtuoso Liberace.  The film doesn’t focus on the lives of either man, but instead chronicles the secret relationship the two had for a five year period.  Scott Thorson (played by Matt Damon) meets Liberace (Michael Douglas) when the piano player’s act is at its peak in popularity.  The two quickly strike up a close friendship, and soon become secret lovers.  Liberace begins moulding the much younger Thorson into a version of himself, paying for a plastic surgery, and transforming his image and lifestyle.  Scott’s pill addiction and Liberace’s need for an open relationship eventually causes a rift between the two, and it leads to a very personal and public break-up and scandal.

Soderbergh’s Candelabra is a perfect example of a director making a very personal and passionate final film, and one that has made his early retirement that much harder to cope with.  His career spanned nearly four decades, and featured incredible films likebehind-the-candelabra Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven, The Informant!, and 2012’s highly underrated (and misunderstood) Magic Mike.  It’s a shame to see such a talented and visionary filmmaker with so much life ahead of him step out of the limelight so early.  His direction in the film is subtle and handled with great care.  Nobody is portrayed as a “bad” person in this story, and that alone is worthy of praise.  The use of Liberace’s music throughout the movie adds life to Candelabra, as does the glossy look of the entire film.  On a technical level, Behind the Candelabra is flawless.

Behind the Candelabra features one of the most amazing performances I’ve seen in a long time in Michael Douglas’ Liberace.  At times I forgot I was watching Douglas, because his Liberace was so incredibly deep and convincing.  Douglas hasn’t been this good in years, and neither has his co-star Matt Damon.  Damon isn’t usually somebody Behind the Candelabra trailer - videowho is known for giving bravura performances, but his turn as Scott Thorson is worthy of many awards.  When these two actors retire, their performances in Behind the Candelabra are going to stand out among their impressive filmography’s.  Supporting performances from Scott Bakula, Rob Lowe, and Dan Aykroyd among others are also great, most notably that of Rob Lowe’s.  Lowe plays plastic surgeon Dr. Jack Startz, and adds a huge amount of comedic relief to the film.  The comedy isn’t forced, and definitely not in your face (pun intended, for those who have seen the film).  The incredible performances within the film add that much more to Candelabra, and again show just how talented of a director Soderbergh really is.  A phenomenal film as a whole, and a triumph for Steven Soderbergh.  Highly recommended!  9.5/10.

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