Benedict Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor in ’12 Years a Slave’
On a snowy afternoon in Manhattan, New York Film Critics Online—a group that very kindly counts yours truly in its membership—met to determine which films that hit theaters in 2013 were great, terrible, meh, or (more commonly) just not great enough.
The headline is that Steve McQueen’s harrowing real-life epic 12 Years a Slave took awards for best picture, actor, and supporting actress, while the incomparable lost-in-space thriller Gravity and French women-in-love romance Blue is the Warmest Color won in two categories. Otherwise, the awards were spread around in a fairly democratic fashion.
The Hollywood Reporter noted the proceedings, as did Variety.
Clinging on for dear life in ‘Gravity’
Here’s the full list of what we liked from 2013:
- Best Picture — 12 Years a Slave
- Best Director — Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
- Best Actor — Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
- Best Actress — Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
- Best Supporting Actor — Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
- Best Screenplay — Spike Jonze, Her
- Best Cinematography — Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity
- Best Breakthrough Performance — Adele Exarchopoulos, Blue Is the Warmest Color
- Best Use of Music — T Bone Burnett, Inside Llewyn Davis
- Best Debut Director — Ryan Coogler, Fruitvale Station
- Best Ensemble Cast — American Hustle
- Best Foreign Language Film — Blue Is the Warmest Color
- Best Documentary — The Act of Killing
- Best Animated Film — The Wind Rises
Best Films of 2013:
- 12 Years a Slave
- Before Midnight
- Blue is the Warmest Color
- Dallas Buyers Club
- Inside Llewyn Davis
- The Wolf of Wall Street
Peter Baker, one of the Times‘ more prolific and thoughtful chroniclers of goings-on in the nation’s capital, published an interesting piece earlier this week on Obama’s reading list. He keeps the psychology to a minimum, fortunately, but does find a few things to parse out here about the president’s personality and how it’s reflected in his choice of reading material:
Unlike many of his predecessors, who devoured American history and biographies, Mr. Obama’s tastes lean toward the literary, in keeping with a man whose first memoir deeply explored issues of race and self. While Mr. Obama has read his share of Abraham Lincoln, he seems more intent on breaking out, mentally at least, from what Harry S. Truman once called the crown jewel of the American penal system.
Dubya, for instance, was particularly fond of the biography, reading some 14 books on Lincoln while he was in office. But the current president has more of a literary taste, not surprising in a man who first came to national attention for his facility with the written and spoken word.
Here’s some of what Obama’s been reading of late:
Oscar Isaac and his not-so-faithful cat in ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’
A not-so-faithful take on the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early-1960s, the Coens brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis is part sour Barton Fink satire on creative arrogance and part O Brother, Where Art Thou? roots-music extravaganza. It’s either a haunting odyssey of failure or who-cares? kind of thing, depending on one’s mood. Either way, stupendous music.
Inside Llewyn Davis opens this week. My full review is at PopMatters:
There’s little reason to think that the titular guitar strummer in the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis will ever come to much of anything. When first spotted in this chilly film, Davis (Oscar Isaac) is determinedly hunched over a microphone and lavishing bleak care on the traditional number, “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me,” whose chorus notes, “I’ll be dead and gone.” After a polite response from the crowd, he steps into the alley behind the dark coffeehouse and gets socked in the nose by a man who keeps grumbling about “What you did.” Things don’t pick up much after that…
You can see the trailer here, using the number “Fare Thee Well,” which could be to this film what “Man of Constant Sorrow” was to O Brother.
‘The Last Days on Mars’: Anybody out there?
Ruairi Robinson pitched his sci-fi horrorshow The Last Days on Mars as “United 93 in space.” That’s a pretty gutsy presentation, not to mention almost entirely miscalculated.
The Last Days on Mars is opening this week in (highly) limited release. My full review is at Film Journal International:
Outer space is the new haunted house. There was a time when films about first contact involved actual contact—sure, everybody might end up running in terror from the laser beams, but there was at least some attempt at communication. Failing outright conflict, filmmakers wanted to show mankind coming to grips with some unfathomable extraterrestrial phenomenon (2001 to Mission to Mars). But more recently, from Prometheus to Europa Report, humanity ventures to distant planets only to end up kibble for varied alien nasties. That dulling trend continues in Ruairi Robinson’s imagination-challenged astronauts-meet-zombies flick The Last Days on Mars…
You can watch the trailer here:
Christian Bale and Zoe Saldana in ‘Out of the Furnace’
Now that December’s here, the Oscar race can begin in earnest. One of the first out of the barrel is Out of the Furnace, which was a Ridley Scott / Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle sometime back but was later (probably fortunately) retooled by Scott Cooper (2009′s Jeff Bridges crusty heartwarmer Crazy Heart) into a self-consciously gritty blue-collar revenge tale with a whole roster of boldface names.
Out of the Furnace is opening this week in limited release. My review is at Film Racket:
Although Christian Bale plays a down-to-earth factory guy in Scott Cooper’s bashed-knuckle drama, there’s still a dark superhero glimmer to his too-good-to-be-true character. In a story littered with moral compromises and horrendous decisions, Bale’s Russell Baze doesn’t show a moment of weakness. He stalks right into the very maw of an Appalachian hell without seeming to give it a second thought. After all, he has his family to defend. That would be all well and good were Russell being played by Charles Bronson and this was a world of strict blacks and whites. But Cooper seems to be aiming for something different, trying to tell a familiar vengeance story with uncommon grit and attention to character. Batman just doesn’t fit that well into that kind of universe…
Here’s the trailer:
Just in time for readers everywhere to get ideas for gift-giving and to also realize exactly how few new books they have gotten to in the past year, The New York Times just released its annual 100 Notable Books list. It’s a daunting list, to be sure, and not always entirely justified—Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is somewhat inexcusably not on the list, while Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs takes up a not entirely necessary slot—but here’s a few of their selections that look best suited for catching up on in the long cold month of January:
All That Is - by James Salter. (Knopf, $26.95.) Salter’s first novel in more than 30 years, which follows the loves and losses of a World War II veteran, is an ambitious departure from his previous work and, at a stroke, demolishes any talk of twilight.
Duplex - By Kathryn Davis. (Graywolf, $24.) A schoolteacher takes an unusual lover in this astonishing, double-hinged novel set in a fantastical suburbia.
Empress Dowagar Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China – by Jung Chang. (Knopf, $30.) Chang portrays Cixi as a proto-feminist and reformer in this authoritative account.
The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking – by Brendan I. Koerner. (Crown, $26.) Refusing to make ’60s avatars of the unlikely couple behind a 1972 skyjacking, Koerner finds a deeper truth about the nature of extremism.
I’ll be contributing as usual to the Best Of Books features at PopMatters, which should run towards the end of the year.