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 😀

My interview with The Angels’ Share’s Screenwriter Paul Laverty – on Ken Loach, inhabiting the characters of his films, Eric Cantona, and more!

The Scottish indie The Angels’ Share kicked off the MSPIFF last Thursday, the latest from acclaimed British director, Ken Loach. Loach’s award-winning long-time screenwriting partner, Paul Laverty, was in attendance for the film festival’s opening night.

PaulLavertyI was fortunate enough to get a sit down interview with Mr. Laverty the afternoon before the film premiere. Bummer that I didn’t get a chance to take a picture of Paul, so the photo to the right I found from Google.

I was planning on having the entire taping of the interview here, alas I forgot to turn my phone on airplane mode so when my friend called me two minutes into the interview and I didn’t realize that it stopped the recording until five minutes later, so I lost a great deal of our conversation where I asked Mr. Laverty about working with Ken Loach and with the actors in The Angels’ Share, so I’ll try my best to write down his answer based on memory, so a lot of the first few answers here is paraphrasing [note to self: get it in writing in case technology snafu happens!]. But the last three questions were on tape, so you can listen to his answers below.

Anyhoo, here’s the interview:

Q: This is your 12th collaboration with Mr. Ken Loach and together you’ve won numerous awards for your work. What’s the secret of such a successful collaboration?

A: Ah yes, well ehm, it’s hard to be objective about it, hard to put my finger on it exactly, well I think the big thing is that we believe the same things, we care about the same things and want to see the same things being explored cinematicaly. Another thing is, it’s fun working with Ken, obviously. But he’s also a radical man, he has a strong opinion about things so it’s could be a challenge, he challenges me sometimes when we work together. But he’s also a very funny man, which makes it enjoyable to work with.

Q: I like stories about second chances and how a small gesture of kindness can turn someone’s life around. The character of Harry, played brilliantly by John Henswaw, is such a wonderful, inspiring character, is he based on anyone you know?

TheAngelsShare_HenshawBrannigan
John Henshaw and Paul Brannigan

A: Glad you mentioned him. John Henshaw is such a wonderful actor and he played his role beautifully. I don’t think [Harry] was based on a single person, but more of a compilation of several people I knew who devoted their lives to rehabilitating the kids who are cast out from society, who can’t get out of their life situation even if they want to because nobody wants to take a chance on them, nobody’s willing to give them a job. That’s why I wanted to tell a story that perhaps would illustrate that part of society, that part of life, and maybe that’d get people to see how tough it is.

Q: The characters in this film are portrayed in such convincing ways by the actors. How did you find them, as I learned that most of the actors didn’t have any acting experience?

A: Yes, the lead Paul Brannigan who played Robbie has never acted before this. His real life story is actually very similar to Robbie, he’s also been to prison. But he was more than up for it. He obviously identified with his character and what he went through. There’s a lot of improvisation and as filming progressed, his confidence [as an actor] just grew and grew. Plus he’s not afraid to take a chance.

LoachBranniganLaverty_Cannes
Ken Loach, Paul Brannigan and Paul Laverty in Cannes

In relation to Laverty’s answer, this is what Ken Loach said about working with Brannigan, per The Guardian:

Says Loach: “He had real emotional truth. He knew this part implicitly. He’s also very astute. Some young actors have talent but you can’t really read them. With Paul, you can, and that’s quite unusual. He’s very centred and focused and economical.”

Q: The dialog in this movie is just wonderful. There’s a profound moment where Robbie’s wife said to him in the hospital as they’re holding their newborn baby, “You just get one shot of being a wee baby, Robbie. Just one shot… You know what that means don’t you?”

TheAngelsShare_Scene

“… I think it’s about trying to see the world from the point of view of that character… and that’s always the great challenge to do that well and not to turn it into a stereotype.”

Q: My friend Mark who lives in Glasgow is a big fan of yours and he’s wondering whether you’re a Celtics or Rangers fan?

A: I’m a Celtics fan, you have to tell him… all the film fans are Celtics fans… as for Ranger fans, I don’t think they see films. Now don’t put that it in print, ahah.

Q: Now, Mark also asked me to pass this question to you… it’s about the situation in Glasgow. He said that the city doesn’t entirely function on sport [football] but its more to do with the religious divide that comes with the sport. It’s hard to describe but it permeates through the city and plays a big part of the cultural divide. It seems like it’s a topic that hasn’t been explored in films hardly at all.

“The ugliest part of Glasgow is the sectarian divide… you know, which is a great shame. It’s a great curse to the city. I think your friend is right. I think there could be a great story told about it…”

Mr. Laverty then said that Mark should write that story. He asked me to say hello to him, so Mark, perhaps one day you would collaborate with Mr. Laverty and Ken Loach on this Scottish football drama! 😉

Q: Why Eric Cantona, of all the other famous football players in Europe?

EricCantona_LookingForEric
Eric Cantona in ‘Looking for Eric’

“Because Eric Cantona came to us and was very keen on collaborating with us. And he came with another idea, which you know, didn’t really work for us. But I was very fascinated by the figure of Eric Cantona, and Ken loves football as well.”

Mr. Laverty also recommended a football-themed film he did with Ken Loach, Italian director Ermanno Olmi and Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami called Tickets. I definitely will be renting that!


Off the record:

At the end of the interview, Mr. Laverty asked which publication I worked for, and when I told him I run a movie blog, he asked if I work on it full time and that he’s always fascinated by how these things came about. Then I replied that I have a full time job elsewhere and that I run my blog after work, and he said how it must take incredible energy.

He was very encouraging when I said I’d love to write for films one day, saying “Well you should do it, I mean if you have that much energy… you stop interviewing people like me and write your own script,”… to which I replied that I’m constantly inspired by creative people like him. But in any case, maybe one day I take up on his advice 😀

THANK YOU Mr. Laverty for your time and for being such so friendly and gracious. Now I really need to do a Ken Loach marathon, starting with Looking For Eric [read Mark’s review of it here]


Hope you enjoy the interview. Now, what’s your favorite film(s) from Ken Loach & Paul Laverty?

Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival (MSPIFF) – April 11-28

MSPIFFlogo I’m so glad to live in a city where arts & culture thrive and are celebrated year round. Well, the biggest film event of the state, The Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival today or MSPIFF for short, opens today! I’ll be picking up my Press Pass later this afternoon. Thanks to the Festival Coordinator (Eric) for the prompt response in approving my application! 😀 Check out the official website for the full lineup selections for the 2013 Festival, which features regional premieres of international and local independent feature-length and short films representing over 60 countries. The Festival, presented by the Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul, runs April 11 through 28 on all five screens of the St. Anthony Main Theatre, 115 SE Main Street, Minneapolis. Here’s what will be showing for their Special Presentations:

Opening Night: The Angels’ Share • UK Closing Night: In a World… • USA Centerpiece Special Presentation: Caesar Must Die • Italy Centerpiece Special Presentation: Midnight’s Children • India Disconnect • USA The East • USA The Kings of Summer • USA Kon-Tiki • Norway/Denmark/UK Low Movie (How to Quit Smoking) • USA Mud • USA The Reluctant Fundamentalist • India/Pakistan/USA Twenty Feet from Stardom • USA Unfinished Song [Song For Marion] • UK What Maisie Knew • USA

MSPIFF_scheduleWow, quite a lineup, isn’t it? Some of them have won film festival awards from around the country, for example, Ken Loach’s The Angels’ Share won the Jury Prize at Cannes and Caesar Must Die won the Golden Bear at 2012 Berlinale. I’ve just downloaded the schedule which is quite handy. You can download the Block Schedule here. I’ve perused the schedule and I’m definitely going to try to see at least 10 films in the next three weeks, here are some I’m hoping to catch:

  • I, Anna
  • Caesar Must Die
  • Mud
  • Unfinished Song (Song for Marion)
  • Disconnect
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist
  • The East
  • Kon-Tiki
  • The Hunt
  • In a World…

I’m sure there’ll be more that caught my eye as I go through the film descriptions on their massive FILMS page. Well, last night, I had the pleasure of watching Ken Loach’s latest feature film The Angels’ Share ahead of my interview with its screenwriter Paul Laverty this afternoon. Here’s the premise of the film:

Narrowly avoiding jail, new dad Robbie vows to turn over a new leaf. A visit to a whisky distillery inspires him and his mates to seek a way out of their hopeless lives.

AngelsSharePoster My friend Mark wrote a beautiful review of this film and I love what he wrote about it…

Loach still has the power of gritty authenticity and on a few occasions he displays that but like the beverage they are concerned about in the film, it has a nice balance; it manages to be both rough and smooth… A slight change of pace from Ken Loach and more upbeat than fans of his will be accustomed to but he manages the understatement very well and delivers one of his most feel-good films to date.

I absolutely agree with Mark that The Angels’ Share has a nice balance of being rough and smooth, it’s a feel-good film without being unnecessarily over-sentimental. The dialog is witty and hilarious at times, and the acting by mostly-unknown young actors are very natural and convincing. Suffice to say, it’s a GREAT pick for an opening film for MSPIFF! Hope you’ll check it out when it’s playing in an indie theater near you.

Loach_Laverty_TheAngelsShare
Paul Laverty [right] with Ken Loach on the set of The Angels’ Share
I’m so looking forward to my 10-minute chat with Mr. Laverty later this afternoon, though I wish I had seen more of his films. He has done some fantastic work, mostly with Loach, most notably The Wind that Shakes The Barley and Looking for Eric, both of which have won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and also the British Independent Film Award. I sure hope the thunderstorm—yep you read it correctly, we’ve got lightning AND snow last night and this morning, [sigh]—dies down a bit in the afternoon, but this snow ain’t gonna stop me!! I’ll definitely be blogging about the interview, so stay tuned 😀


Have you seen any of these… or does any of these films interest you?