My Seven Favorite Films of 2013

This post is also known as “The 2013 Golden Teddy Awards for Most Excellence in Film, Part 1.”

I don’t think the 2013 was much of a year for movies, since I spent a long, long time to find ten that I could unreservedly say I loved. And in the end I chose seven because the other three slots kept getting filled with movies that I had problems with even if I liked them. Most of those movies I liked because of one or two performances, or a performance and a script, or just the direction, and so on, but there were other things that bugged me a little too much. These seven are films for which everything comes together for me and I’ve found myself saying, “Oh, you have to see that.Continue…

One of the Side Effects is sleepwalking

628x471The fake Ablixa causes sleepwalking. Which seems to be what Soderbergh was doing while directing the movie.

Steven Soderbergh has announced that Side Effects will be his last Hollywood film. At 50, he’s done; he’s said that he’s going to turn to painting and, maybe, directing television. But after directing Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Out of Sight, The Limey, Traffic, Erin Brockovich, Oceans 11, Che, The Informant, and Magic Mike, I would want to go out with a bang. Side Effects is a whimper. It’s basically a long, relatively well-acted Law & Order episode, complete with discussions of double jeopardy and a “shocking” but offensively retrograde ending. Continue…

Could it be magic?

How much did I love Magic Mike? So much.

When I told a couple of friends that I was taking my boyfriend to see Channing Tatum dance in a strip club in Magic Mike, there was an exultant, “Oh, that looks sooo bad!” They had the so-bad-it’s-good bloodlust; they were hoping for Showgirls crossed with Coyote Ugly crossed with Staying Alive. “It’s a Steven Soderbergh movie,” I said, and I was met with a few blank looks. “As in Traffic and Erin Brockovich and Oceans 11?” Silence. I decided not to mention Sex, Lies and Videotape.

Whoever was behind the marketing for Magic Mike decided that they were not going to even mention Soderbergh, let alone promote him. They were going to focus the ads on a shirtless, occasionally pantsless Tatum and, in various stages of undress, his costars Alex Pettyfer (I am Number Four), Joe Manganiello (True Blood), Matt Bomer (White Collar), and Matthew McConaughey, all looking like Men’s Fitness models. The only clue that the movie might be more than hot guys stripping to Top 40 music for an hour and half came with how stunning some of the visuals were – washes of sunlight, almost iridescent bleeds of color. We also saw a few seconds of what appears to be some snappy acting.

The marketing worked, because when we saw the movie on opening night, the showing was packed, and it was packed with very excited young women, some of whom were very drunk. (There also appeared to be seven or eight gay guys in the audience.) The first sight of Tatum was met with screams from the audience, and the screaming continued throughout the film whenever a man took off his shirt or showed his ass. There was a lot of screaming. I haven’t been to a movie with this much audience participation since I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show 20 years ago.

As fun as it was to watch all of these gorgeous men show off their perfect abs and how nicely they fit into thongs, the rest of the movie is also deserving of a good scream, too. Soderbergh’s visuals are, as usual, full of unexpected colors and inventive points of view; his edits are quick in places, naturalistic in others, but always propel the story perfectly. And Soderbergh’s direction of Reid Carolin’s very funny and very smart script made it seem as if the entire movie was improvised; everyone seemed totally at ease, their emotions always believable. There’s an actual plot, even if it is cribbed from All About Eve: Mike (Tatum) is the star dancer of Xquisite, a male revue in Tampa run by Dallas (McConaughey), who has the ego the size of the state of Florida and delusions of grandeur to match. Mike is a professional, makes good money, and has dreams of becoming a furniture designer. He meets 19-year-old Adam (Pettyfer), who is stunning and directionless, and helps him get into the show. Adam’s uptight sister Brooke (Horn) disapproves, and she becomes an excellent target for Mike’s endless charm. But as Adam turns into a star, he also turns into a jerk, and the ramifications of Adam’s bad behavior and Dallas’s lack of integrity make Mike question is path.

But the best thing about Magic Mike is Tatum himself. Those of us who saw him in Step Up know he can dance. Watching his long, lean muscular body doing acrobatic hip hop will either will take your breath away or make you scream. He has an odd beauty, the blank face of a dumb jock. This makes him both unthreatening and unspecific enough to serve as a blank screen onto which we can project our fantasies. But his face’s lack of actorly expression allows his audience to underestimate his skill. Because he can act. Magic Mike forces him to articulate almost every emotion, from flirtation to grief, and he is convincing at every turn. Tatum is already a star, but contrary to how Magic Mike was marketed, he may actually turn out to be serious one.

Magic Mike
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Reid Carolin
Starring Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, and Matthew McConaughey
Rated R
At your local multiplex

Yes, I am still reviewing movies. Here are the last four!

I’ve been very distracted over the last month, and while I’ve been turning in my reviews and they’ve been getting published, I’ve been spacing on linking to them. So, here are the four that I haven’t told y’all about, in order of most recent release.

50/50: I think one of the weirder genres of film is the disease comedy. Even if the film itself is an organic melding of comedy and tragedy, the idea itself is jarring. Paul Rudnick’s Jeffrey is a damn good movie (though a much better play), but it’s a sex comedy about AIDS. I mean, really. The Big C is a sitcom starring a host of wonderfully funny actors – Laura Linney, Oliver Platt, John Benjamin Hickey, Cynthia Nixon – but it’s about a woman with terminal cancer. Ugh. In the newest of the genre, 50/50, Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) responds to the stunned silence that follows the announcement of his diagnosis by asking, “Have you seen Terms of Endearment?” referencing the mother of all cancer comedies. How meta. And since it’s meant to get a laugh, it’s even more self-referential. [Read the whole thing.]

Moneyball: Michael Lewis’ 2003 book about how the Oakland Athletics’ general manager Billy Beane used baseball statistics in complex, innovative and surprisingly winning ways was a phenomenal bestseller. Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game has remained hugely popular for years, not just because Lewis managed to write a good sports drama but also because he wrote a great business book about how a macho, intuitive industry was changed by analytic nerds. While sports metaphors work well in business, and sports movies can be great drama, business books don’t make great films. However, the film based on Moneyball is a great movie, and this despite the business drama behind it, with the second director Steven Soderbergh getting fired and an Aaron Sorkin script getting rewritten. But Brad Pitt (playing Beane), Bennett Miller (who directed Capote), and Steve Zaillian (who adapted Schindler’s List), have hit a home run. (Sorry.) [Read the whole thing. Bonus: There’s a capsule review of Drive at the end.]

Contagion: I guess if you really want to scare the Bejesus out of audiences, releasing a movie about a mysterious, end-of-the-world viral pandemic on the weekend of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks is one sure-fire way.

Unlike traditional horror movies that revolve around supernatural evil (The Exorcist) or angry psychopaths (Friday the 13th) or science fiction (28 Days Later), Contagion earns its horror by telling a story as close to possible as Traffic or The Hurt Locker did and then lets the underlying nervous terror wrought by the weekend amplify the fear. It’s a cynical, manipulative and exploitative move, and I’m not sure how commercially successful such a movie can be.

However, if you have Steven Soderbergh directing Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard and Laurence Fishburne, you can probably get funding for a movie about alfalfa farmers; you can get a lot of funding if you say your movie is Outbreak crossed with Traffic. It would help, of course, if the movie was as good as Traffic, Steven Soderbergh’s problematic masterpiece. Alas, it’s not. [Read the whole thing.]

Warrior: I must admit that going into the theater to see the mixed martial arts movie Warrior, I thought it was based on a true story. I don’t know why I thought this. It may have been its gritty similarity to The Fighter, last-year’s Oscar-winning movie about the real-life boxer Micky Ward and his brother Dicky. Or maybe it was that the last time Tom Hardy, the break-out star of last year’s Inception, was bulked up this huge, he was in Bronson, the mostly true story about an infamous British criminal.

Whatever the reason was, I think that believing that the brothers Brendan and Tommy Conlon were real people helped me to fall for the film in ways that were quite unexpected for me. Because I must also admit that the reason I was initially so excited to see Warrior is that I knew it would feature a lot of shirtless muscle gods wailing on each other. [Read the whole thing.]