Several of 2013’s heavy hitters, including some films that may figure heavily into a number of awards races (beginning tomorrow night with the Golden Globes) are just now getting to wide release after debuting in limited showings last month. Miss our initial reviews? We’ve got the rundown on which of these carryovers are worth your time and money.
August: Osage County
Director: John Wells
Cast: Meryl Streep, Julia Robers, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sam Shepard, Margot Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Misty Upham
The Verdict: 3 out of 5
The impeccable performances of the sprawling ensemble cast – Streep and Roberts are terrific, and I was particularly impressed with the quiet vulnerability of Julianne Nicholson’s performance – are enough to recommend the film. The whole that surrounds it is a bit more messy in its execution, with multiple subplot threads left dangling and the full impact of the Weston family feud somewhat diluted. August: Osage County, with its nasty verbal bon mots and icy stingers, recalls the scathing characterization and caustic humor in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but it needed a filmmaker with a clearer vision and more hands-on approach than John Wells ever provides to craft something similarly memorable.
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Olivia Wilde, Rooney Mara
The Verdict: 5 out of 5
Spike Jonze has crafted something very special with Her, and I’ve touched on maybe half of the reasons why. This is a very watchable movie, i.e. one that isn’t trying to be “artsy,” but it also reminds us how very powerful filmmaking can be in attempting to explore deep seeded human issues like the need for human relationships, the difficulty of maintaining them among ever-changing people in an ever-changing world, and our relationship with technologies we use every day. Her does all this without simplifying the incredible complexity of these issues through a brilliantly told, surprisingly simple story. Joaquin Phoenix has done some of his best ever work here, supported by great performances by Scarlett Johansson and Amy Adams. The production design fits perfectly, as does the soundtrack, to create a setting that feels very specific in time and place, yet evokes the timeless nature of its story. This movie will make you uncomfortable. Repeatedly. And it’s absolutely worth it.
Her was mxdwn Movies’ Best Film of 2013. See the full list here.
Inside Llewyn Davis
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Garett Hedlund, Adam Driver
The Verdict: 4 out of 5
This is a very good movie, and a stellar piece of filmmaking and acting. It’s got a great soundtrack, I loved the wry humor in evidence throughout the film, and you’ll be hard pressed to find better written characters anywhere. Where the film fell a bit flat for me was in its overall sense of impact. This isn’t a movie that’s going to stay with me. That doesn’t mean it has nothing to say, nor that it says it poorly. It’s a spectacular character study and a love letter of sorts to the, shall we say, unsung artists of the ‘60s folk music scene. But when it’s all said and done, I’ll be very surprised if this is one of the Coen Brothers’ most celebrated works.
Inside Llewyn Davis was mxdwn Movies’ #6 Movie of 2013. See the full list here.
Director: Peter Berg
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Eric Bana, Alexander Ludwig
The Verdict: 3 out of 5
Based on the marketing, I expected this movie to trip over itself in an effort to be pro ‘Murica despite the tragedy ensured by the title. And yes, it is a tribute to American military efforts, particularly the extraordinary capacities of the best the military has to offer: the Navy SEALs. But even though this is an action movie that paints its enemy in an inhuman light, there’s sufficient character and nuance here that it’s still an easy film to get behind, particularly in light of some conscious efforts to differentiate the people of Afghanistan at large from the evil of the Taliban. Lone Survivor is a straightforward story, but one that’s competently executed and will certainly appeal to a particular cross section of the moviegoing audience.