The Flix List: Top 10 Movies from the first half of 2013

This list is rather late as we’ve already passed the halfway mark of the year a few weeks ago. As you know, because of personal circumstances, I had to take a blogging/movie-viewing hiatus for a while, so I missed a few screenings of what could’ve made my list: Mud, The Bling Ring, World War Z, etc.

In any case, my list contains a couple of movies that had been released last year internationally, but I included it here as I’m using the USA release dates. Now, when I say ‘top movies’ it’s sort of a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so the criteria is that these films made an impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply moving, thought-provoking, and indelible. Rewatchability is a factor but it doesn’t account as high as the other virtues I’ve mentioned, because some of the films here are more of a one-time-viewing-only types (for me anyway), but I still very much appreciate the artistry and passion that goes into making them.

So without further ado, I present to you my TOP 10 list (in reverse order):

top10_2013_firsthalf

10. Disconnect (full review)

10DisconnectThis film seems to have been overlooked as I barely saw any promos or articles on this one. It’s certainly not an easy film to watch as the subject matters are VERY unsettling: cyber-bullying, teen pornography, etc. I said in my review that I felt drained at the end of the film as there’s barely any humor injected here to break up the intensity. But I’m glad I saw it, and I was quite impressed by Andrea Riseborough and Frank Grillo, two actors I hope would get more roles in Hollywood.

9. Monsters University (full review)

9MonstersUI was a big fan of the original so even though the idea of any sequels is iffy, it was a lot of fun to revisit the delightful characters of Monstropolis. Mike Wazowski remains one of my favorite Pixar characters of all time, so right away I was fully invested in his journey. Pixar delivered once again in crafting a heart-warming story that’s nostalgic and relatable. The campus life is full of mirth and riotous fun, but not without emotional issues we humans can easily identify with.

8. The Angels’ Share

8AngelsShareKen Loach is no stranger to social commentary in his films and this could be his lightest one yet. By ‘light’ I don’t mean frivolous however, no siree, there’s a great deal of turmoil and mayhem surrounding the protagonist Robbie (played brilliantly by Paul Brannigan despite his lack of acting experience), but it’s also a story of hope and second chances. Oh, and it’s also hilarious! I was so fortunate to be able to interview screenwriter Paul Laverty who wrote this Scottish comedy gem. Do yourself a favor and rent this movie!

7. Iron Man 3

7IronMan3I was ready to dismiss this movie but you know what, somehow Tony Stark & co. managed to still be quite entertaining. I’ve listed 10 reason why this movie beats my expectations, as Shane Black deftly crafted a fish-out-of-water plot that gets the flamboyant billionaire out of his comfort zone. I for one enjoyed the ‘twist’ of the story, plus the humor and spectacle all come together to give us pure escapist entertainment. Of course, one’s enjoyment depends how jaded you are with superhero movies. I for one think there’s still enough juice left in this installment to entertain.

6. Stoker (full review)

6StokerMost of FC readers know I’m not one for disturbing movies, but there’s something so mesmerizingly beautiful about Chan-Wook Park‘s English language debut. It’s incredibly atmospheric and nearly every frame has such a delicately eerie quality that lingers long after the film’s over. Superb performances all around, especially Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode. The latter played against type to great effect, so I’m glad he ended up getting cast here instead of Colin Firth. Highly recommended for fans of cerebral thrillers.

5. The Reluctant Fundamentalist (full review)

5ReluctantFundamentalistThis is another tough film to watch but one that I’m glad I put it on my watch-list. I saw this during MSP film festival, and it’s one I don’t mind seeing again. Mira Nair takes a controversial subject matter of terrorism with care, as in essence the film is more about the Pakistani protagonist Changez living in a world rife with fear and suspicion. I was hugely impressed by London-born Riz Ahmed in the title role, portraying a deeply-conflicted who’s highly intelligent and charismatic. Even though there’ve been films of this subject done in the past, this one manages to set itself apart as it tackles a story that’s not often explored but certainly worth telling.

4. Star Trek Into Darkness (full review)

4StarTrekIntoDarknessJJ Abrams managed to make me interested in the Star Trek universe, which is quite a feat in itself. The strength of this movie is the zippy and fun tone, boosted by the chemistry of its cast and eye-popping special effects. Of course I have to mention the excellent casting of Benedict Cumberbatch, who somehow manages to still upstage the already-awesome Enterprise crew led by Chris Pine with his decidedly theatrical performance. It’s one of the funnest movies of the Summer to be sure, for sure I’ll be getting the Blu-ray 😀

3. The Kings of Summer (full review)

3KingsOfSummerI went in to this movie pretty much blindly as I only read the quick summary on IMDb and not knowing any of the cast. Well, it turns out to be a delightful surprise that I knew it’ll end up in my Best list of the year! This is a Summer film that offers a humorous but meaningful diversion from the loud tent-pole movies, with gorgeous nature scenery truly celebrates the beauty of the season. There have been countless of coming-of-age films out of Hollywood, and I think this directorial debut from Jordan Vogt-Roberts is an excellent addition in that sub-genre!

2. Man of Steel (full review)

2ManOfSteelWell, it shouldn’t be a surprise to you that this movie would be in my top 5, right? 😀 It took me a while to process it the first time I saw it, I mean the scope of this movie is massive. But the more it sat with me the more I appreciate it, despite the CGI-overloaded third act. Superman is a tough character to crack, figuratively and otherwise, but somehow Chris Nolan, David Goyer and Zack Snyder managed to create an imaginative origins story full of spectacle but also full of heart. I love how the relationships between Kal-El and his Kryptonian and earthly parents are explored in great depth here. The casting is top notch all around, led by the first Brit in the role, Henry Cavill, who’s more than up to the task to provide of strength and vulnerability. Given my undying love for Superman, Man of Steel certainly did not dampen my love for this Kryptonian hero.

1. The Hunt (full review)

1TheHunt

Some films are so deeply affecting and impressively-made that the minute you left the theater, you knew straight away it’s going to be the one to beat in a given year. I had to sit down for a few minutes to take it in after the film’s over. My hubby and I looked at each other and we’re like, ‘WOW, that was something wasn’t it?’ Mads Mikkelsen is nothing short of outstanding as Lucas, a man on the hunt, a kindergarten teacher whose life suddenly got turned upside down as a seemingly ‘innocent’ lie runs amok in his tight-knight Danish community.

Director Thomas Vinterberg shrewd, minimalist style creates a highly tense, unsettling atmosphere that really gets under your skin. The lush and evocative cinematography by Charlotte Bruus Christensen creates a captivating contrast between the serene-looking scenery and the increasing inner tumult within Lucas as things spin out of control. This is definitely a film not-to-be-missed, folks. Even with all the big-budgeted Summer movies that have come along since, this is one of those films that you won’t soon forget. I hope they’d get some nominations come award season.


HONORABLE MENTIONS:

These aren’t stellar by any means, but it was pretty entertaining, some are a pleasant surprise to me as they’re not even my go-to genre. So yeah, I’d recommend these for a rental!


WORST of the year so far:

I’m glad I’ve been able to avoid what’s poised to be stinkers like Grown Ups 2, Tyler Perry’s Temptation, Movie 43, etc. but these are pretty terrible in their own right. It’s not even worth seeing on a plane IHMO.


UPVOTE please


So that’s my Best/Worst list of the year. Thoughts on my picks here? I’d be happy to discuss ’em with you 😀

Double Indie Film Reviews: Disconnect + Unfinished Song

This past week, I had the chance to watch a couple of indie films through MSPIFF and press screening. It would’ve been three films but the blizzard last Thursday kept me from going to the MUD screening. Yes it’s such a bummer but really, in the grand scheme of things, especially compared to what’s going on in other parts of the world, it’s really not that big a deal to miss a single movie, I’ll just catch it when it’s released in the cinema. In any case, here are my mini reviews I was fortunate to see:

Disconnect

DisconnectPosterA hard-working lawyer, attached to his cell phone, can’t find the time to communicate with his family. A couple is drawn into a dangerous situation when their secrets are exposed online. A widowed ex-cop struggles to raise a mischievous son who cyber-bullies a classmate. An ambitious journalist sees a career-making story in a teen that performs on an adult-only site. They are strangers, neighbors and colleagues and their stories collide in this riveting dramatic thriller about ordinary people struggling to connect in today’s wired world.

Right from the trailer, it’s easy to just regard this as a cautionary tale for the internet age, but as the story unfolds, it’s really about more than that. And at some point, we’ve either read about or even have a personal connection with the real life tragedies that happen to the characters in the film. Something that’s seemingly trivial like being constantly on one’s cell phone, something I definitely could relate to, can have dire consequences if it actually mean we’ve become ‘disconnected’ from the world and people around us. All three loosely-interconnected stories seem like something ripped from the headlines and director Henry Alex Rubin doesn’t pull any punches in showing the truly ugly side of humanity, the kind of hurt and tragedy that can happen when we think of everything as simply fun and frivolity. The most heart-breaking story involves the cyber-bullying by a couple of mindless teenagers posing as a female admirer on Facebook to trick a particularly forlorn fellow classmate. The eerie part is I was just reading about a teen driven to suicide for similar reasons just a day before I saw this film. You know that the ‘fun and games’ would not end well, but it still makes your skin crawl watching the situation culminating into that harrowing moment. A friend of mine warned me that this film contain a lot of nudity, which I sort of expected given the subject matter. I still question whether it’s necessary to portray teen nudity even if it’s integral to the story, but fortunately this film doesn’t dwell on it and the script did its part in conveying the painful message across. At times I feel that the buildup is a bit too drawn-out though, I think a more careful editing might’ve made this a more taut and efficient thriller.

Disconnect_Andrea_Jason

A couple of performances jump out at me right away, one is Andrea Riseborough who pulls a ‘Jessica Chastain’ on me as I had no idea who she was a few weeks ago and this week I happen to see two of her films playing two very different roles! Here she plays an ambitious reporter who runs a career-making story on teenage sex-cam prostitution who ended up being drawn to one of the male prostitute, Kyle (Max Thieriot, whom I have never heard before either but was quite good here). Oh it’s interesting to see designer Marc Jacobs playing the sex-cam pimp, I had no idea he’s got acting aspirations but I recognize him right away from the fashion magazines. The other standout performance is Jason Bateman in a rare serious role as the overworked father who’s trying to put the pieces together after almost losing his son. He’s believable as a dad who’s ravaged with guilt, but then became too obsessed with the case he risk of losing his whole family.

I also want to mention Frank Grillo who impressed me in Warrior as Joel Edgerton’s trainer. I find him to be a compelling but underrated actor, I wish he’d get more prominent role as he’s got quite a leading man charisma. Not overly impressed with Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgård as the married couple, I mean they’re ok but aren’t as memorable as the rest. This is quite a tough film to watch, in fact I feel drained at the end of the film as there’s barely any humor injected here to break up the intensity. But it’s one of those films that is definitely worth a watch as it makes you think about the seemingly-trivial things one does in life. As the tagline says: Real life is on the line, it certainly makes me appreciate those close to me and remind me not to take the time we have with them for granted.


4 out of 5 reels


Unfinished Song [Song for Marion]

Grumpy pensioner Arthur honors his recently deceased wife’s passion for performing by joining the unconventional local choir to which she used to belong, a process that helps him build bridges with his estranged son, James. SongForMarionPoster

I don’t know why they changed the title to Unfinished Song as it’s not as appealing as Song for Marion to me. The film is really about a ‘song’ for Marion, a terminally-ill woman who’s loved by the community choir class she attends to regularly. Now, her curmudgeon husband Arthur obliges in taking her to these classes but he never pretends to enjoy it. In fact, at some moment of the film, Arthur really struggles in simply enjoying life, such a contrast to his wife’s sunny disposition even in her darkest moments when her cancer came back and she only had weeks to live. The main draw of this film for me is the cast, especially Terrence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave as an elderly couple Arthur and Marion who love each other despite their major differences. It’s also nice to see an uplifting film amidst the mostly dark premise of the films I’ve signed up for at MSPIFF. There’s also something enchanting about seeing the lives of seniors, and the musical aspect reminds me a bit of Quartet with Maggie Smith as a retired opera singer. Though Marion is in the title, the film is really more about Arthur and how the last days of his wife’s life ends up being a life-transforming moment, in more ways than one. It’s never fully explained why Arthur is so grumpy, but Terrence Stamp seems fittingly-cast here as he has this inherently icy aura. He’s the kind of actor who’s amusing to watch even if you aren’t fond of the character he’s playing. I guess that’s what one would expect from an actor who’s famous for playing bad guys. Gemma Arterton takes a break from being a femme-fatale type and plays a sweet music teacher Elizabeth spends most of the time either with the young students at her school or with her more um, mature students in her spare time. Other than that, there’s no depth in her character however, the film never tells us why she has no friends her own age. There’s a friendship that develops between her and Arthur, but it seems rather forced at times despite the actors’ best effort. UnfinishedSong_Pics Now, I wish I could say I LOVE this film but I feel that the predictable premise is made worse by the overly emotionally-manipulative direction which prevents it from being truly engaging. I think the main issue is the script as director/writer Paul Andrew Williams obviously has a stellar cast at their disposal. The family dynamics between Arthur and his estranged son (Christopher Eccleston) isn’t as compellingly-handled as it could’ve been, either. That said, there are some tender and warm moments that end in a feel-good finale. The musical aspect is definitely amusing, and Mr. Stamp wowed me with his vocal chops in more than one occasions. I think this one is worth a rental if you’re a fan of the cast and you’re willing to tolerate the sentimental stuff. It’s moving enough to appreciate and enjoy, one thing for sure its heart is in the right place.


3 out of 5 reels

Thoughts on either one of these films/cast? I’d love to hear it in the comments!