Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013: The Year in Film (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

2013: The Year in Film
[Highlighted films currently playing at the Tropic]

Although Lee Daniels' "The Butler" was snubbed this year by the Golden Globes, possibly because of Oprah Winfrey's star power or even, perhaps by The Butler character's imagined passivity, true life stories were still in vogue at year's end. Tom Hanks solidly went to sea in "Captain Phillips", based on an ordeal with Somali pirates. Hanks role proved compelling, but it was the acting of newcomer Barkhad Abdi who made the real strike and I think he will win an Oscar.

Robert Redford also hit the spot in the understated "All is Lost". J.C. Chandor's brilliant study of one man at odds in the ocean.

"12 Years a Slave" was an impeccable and uncompromising memoir on the life of the kidnapped Solomon Northup that is to be commended in its refusal to pull punches.

Denis Villenueve's "Prisoners" melted a true story into a noirish Hitchcockian study of punishment and loss. Never has a single note of one whistle been so fraught with tension.

If the dark side of the Catholic Church catches your fancy, "Philomena" highlights a devout and seeking Judi Dench and a crabby Steve Coogan in a light hybrid of papal espionage and a road film all mixed together to make a delightful portrait of a friendship.

For those that like quirky families, "Nebraska" created a deceptively simple and warm, picaresque study of a family trying to cope with eccentricity. A highlight of the film is Alexander Payne's subtlety in speech and comedy, combined with wonderful cinematography that recalls Walker Evans.

Also touching on a difficult relationship of sorts is "Saving Mr. Banks" a poignantly vivid account  undertaking of  Mary Poppins featuring the stuffy author and an egotistical Disney.

Now we come to some topical financial themed character studies.

"Blue Jasmine" heads the list with a prolific Woody Allen in rare form. Allen delivers with a razor sharp interpretation of a Mrs. Madoff expose with a Tennessee Williams' toxic edge of suffering ghosts. Cate Blanchett can't lose.

"American Hustle" is a solid account of the ABSCAM scandal of the late 70s. Christian Bale has gained weight and a hairpiece that is both scary and silly. Jennifer Lawrence is a living Betty Boop with a nail polish fetish. Her superficiality is something frightening and slick. The film has a very accurate rhythm in capturing its time of disco and panic, but if Louis Malle had had his way with the late John Belushi in the Bale role, the story might have reached poetic heights.

Finally "The Wolf of Wall Street" places Leonardo DiCaprio in familiar urban territory as a Money Mad Man---part Johnny Knoxville and part pageboy De Niro. He takes a few paragraphs from his role as Frank Abagnale Jr. DiCaprio is intimidating enough but he also rants  roars and pratfalls along the way, losing all muscle control. Scorsese is at his best when he tones it down a bit at last, allowing some grim and pointed humor to finally come to the trading floor.

This year in film has seen all manner of real stories through schemes and scams, full of motley characters, windbag financiers with all variety of  pirates, cousins and lost uncles, not to mention those just plain lost who look to find their own family, be they real, stolen, or imagined.

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