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Movies to see and not to see: Yay and blech

Pièce de résistance: American Hustle
Pièce de résistance: American Hustle
Atlas Entertainment and Annapurna Pictures

Movies 2013


It is Screener Season and Holiday Season and the perfect time to sequester yourself and screen some -- or go out to see some -- of the following movies that are up for awards consideration:

Nebraska: Slow-moving, bland, and too many ‘hello, how are you’ scenes. The writer doesn’t build tension or develop rich characters that speak in anything other than awkward exposition, and the alleged drunk doesn’t behave like a drunk (I’m from the Midwest, too, and the drunks I know, which is everyone, are pretty doggone moody and colorful); and the director has disdain for what little bit of character there is. The last 15% of the movie is the best. So, if you stick through to the end and patiently wait it out, like you might a blizzard or a tornado of nothingness, then the very end is where the payoff is. Though that payoff is small and not at all tornado-y. BLECH.

August: Osage County: Want to relive your dysfunctional childhood while you are hiding in a room somewhere in your childhood home over the holidays trying to avoid familial dysfunction? This movie is "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" meets "Crimes of the Heart" meets a whack in the head with something hard. But there are good performances, and because Meryl Streep, Sam Shepard and Julia Roberts are in it, and because the Pulitzer-winning playwright is also the screenwriter, this is perhaps a must-see. Just chase it afterward with James Gandolfini and Julia Louise-Dreyfus in "Enough Said." WELL, IF YOU YELL AT ME LIKE THAT, THEN, YAY.

Enough Said: A nice palate cleanser after "August: Osage County" because it is about interpersonal relationships that aren’t limited to the terrible. This is NOT a good palate cleanser to follow, say, "Twelve Years a Slave," because it is just too tiny in scope to follow such a feat about such a topic. But this little movie about present-day, everyday people showcases good writing and great acting. Gandolfini and Louise-Dreyfus, at least, are perfect. A simple, low-budget-y delivery of a sweet story for folks over 40. YAY.

Twelve Years a Slave: Remarkable and necessary (and painful). Not a date movie, unless you want to cry with your date -- down to your bones -- and rage against injustice and realize that people have the capacity to be very, very, very, very cruel. YAY.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler: More typical and mainstream than some others on this list. An interesting premise. Not as riveting as "Twelve Years a Slave" which deals with similar themes, but easier to watch. The acting from its leads (Oprah Winfrey, for one) is not as brilliant as one might expect. Important to see for socio-politico-historical reasons. Also, my friend Colman is in it. He’s done a lot of theater, and he’s super nice, so maybe he’s your friend too? YAY.

Inside Llewyn Davis: Apparently, this is the year of the bleak, bleak and more bleak. This movie is a ‘what about those folks who didn’t get famous?’ story exploring the missteps of a struggling folksinger whose life is luckily about as resilient as that of a nine-life cat. The best parts of this movie include the music (though not as wide-ranging or as pleasing to the senses as one would expect a folk-singing movie to be) and the cogitating on the symbolism of the cat. Because it’s a Coen Brothers’ movie and you live in LA, you should see it. But BLECH.

Dallas Buyers Club: Matthew McConaughey is astounding. So is Jared Leto. The story inspired me to research more on the history of AIDS drugs. There are some holes in the story -- places where you imagine omitted scenes on the figurative editing floor -- and some directorial goofs like the too-fast movement from total homophobia to ‘sure, gay man in drag, let’s play cards.’ But otherwise this is an excellent movie. YAY.

O’ Apóstolo: A stop-motion animation movie from Spain for adults more than for kids. It is dark, but not too dark. If you like stop-motion or claymation or animation or anything that takes eons, patience and skilled craftspeople to make, and if you like myths, legends and Spain, then you will very much enjoy this movie. YAY.

Blue Jasmine: Woody Allen’s disdain for women arcs a bit during this movie and moves from loathing to loathing with a smidge of compassion, and Cate Blanchett is superb. She is more wild and all over the place and complicated than I have seen her. This movie might speak to those who have suffered recent economic hardship or lived with a con man or imagined dating Louis C.K., and it was shot in San Francisco, so there is much fun to be had in spotting familiar locales. YAY.

Philomena: Gorgeous, lovely, heart-breaking, moving and brilliantly executed on all fronts. A movie you can watch with your parents and not get into arguments afterward. Unless, of course, your parents have strong opinions about religion, abortion, adoption, homosexuality, Ireland, journalism, Republicanism, or Judi Dench, who is softer here than she usually is. YAY.

American Hustle: Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! YAY. YAY. YAY.

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