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Mitchell's Top 20 Films of 2013: #5 "Before Midnight"

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5. “Before Midnight” - Pick your favorite romantic drama. Have you ever wished for a sequel?

In “Casablanca 2”, would Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) divorce Laszlo and run back to Rick (Humphrey Bogart)?

In “When Harry Has Kids With Sally...”, would Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) argue on their way to the Little League Baseball field?

Experiencing sequels to classic romances do have their appeal, but the risk of disappointment runs high.

As in real life, it’s extremely rare to catch lightning in a bottle, let alone do it twice.

Well, writer/director Richard Linklater has captured precious electric charges of cinematic magic with the same two characters - Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) - not once, not twice, but three times with “Before Sunrise” (1995), “Before Sunset” (2004) and now, “Before Midnight” (2013).

Eighteen years ago, Linklater delivered “Before Sunrise” and gave audiences a heroic, sincere and highly engaging portrayal of a chance encounter between early 20-somethings - Celine and Jesse - who meet on a train heading for Paris.

Remarkably, Linklater, Delpy and Hawke got together again and co-wrote (along with Kim Krizan) "Before Sunset” as audiences got a peek into Celine’s and Jesse’s lives nine years after the first film.

Both movies excel due to exceptional writing, frank honesty, instant chemistry between Delpy and Hawke, the likability of their characters, and highly memorable endings.

It’s now 2013, and it’s time to run into Celine and Jesse again, and Greece is the setting.

They are currently spending six weeks on vacation in a gorgeous paradise, and true to form with the first two films, the movie grants us just a one-day visit.

Thankfully, we do learn about the important events between the pair over the last nine years, but it would be extremely unfair for me to expand upon them in this review.

Much of the fun of “Before Midnight” is learning about their lives through big and small reveals at every step.

I use the word, step, figuratively and literally, and the latter is most pertinent because a key act in the film has our heroes walking through a picturesque village while expressing their feelings over a myriad of familiar topics.

They aren't kids any longer, so the aging process - both mentally and physically - and the changes brought on by 18 years since they first met take center stage as major talking points.

No matter if Celine and Jesse walk to their hotel room, drive back from the airport, or enjoy a memorable dinner with friends, the art of conversation stands first and foremost.

Since they met nearly 20 years ago, their relationship has evolved.

They speak their own shorthand language now.

For example Celine tells a story which occurred before they met, and she casually says, "That was from before."

Jesse instantly knows what she means.

They know how to argue and poke at each other’s weak spots, but also soothe their egos and show genuine affection.

Jesse might anoint Celine, “The Mayor of Crazytown”, but also mentions she’s more beautiful today than when he first met her.

Celine might call 41-year-old Jesse an “American Teenager”, but is also fiercely supportive of his teenage son.

We root for this couple, and after a long absence from the screen, fans want Celine and Jesse to get along swimmingly, but the film threatens our hopes.

The script sways between moments of love and tenderness to arguments and strife.

We want a happy ending, but the rich and layered loving exchanges can easily fall into combat mode, so such an ending feels very much in doubt, and this specific uncertainty drives a compelling movie.

I was literally leaning forward in my seat and intently listening to every word uttered, and the mix of emotions, fears, day-to-day struggles, sarcasm, kindness, intimacy, and plenty of humor pulled me into a story which breezes by at 108 minutes.

Humor is important to mention, because I laughed so much, I should categorize the film as a romantic/drama/comedy. (For example, Delpy's priceless two-minute bimbo impression at the dinner table brought down the house.)

Although the first two films receive my highest rating, I believe “Before Midnight” might offer the strongest material, and Hawke and Delpy perform to the very peaks of their powers.

That doesn’t mean I think “The Artist II” or “Ghost II” should be attempted, because Linklater, Hawke and Delpy truly have created something extremely rare with these stories.

I believe it's called...cinematic magic.

Follow me on Twitter: @MitchFilmCritic

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