Movies to See Right Now

SHORT TERM 12
SHORT TERM 12

This week, I’m featuring three movies that are flying under the radar. The Chilean drama Gloria is about an especially resilient 58-year-old woman.  Harder to find, Stranger by the Lake is an effective French thriller with LOTS of explicit gay sex.

And my DVD/Stream of the Week is the compelling and affecting foster care drama Short Term 12. This movie made both my Best Movies of 2013 and my Most Overlooked Movies of 2013, with its star making performance by Brie Larson.   Short Term 12 is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, GooglePlay and Xbox Video.

In theaters, you can still find Oscar nominees Nebraska, American Hustle and Her, which all made my Best Movies of 2013.  I also strongly recommend Best Picture nominees The Wolf of Wall Street and PhilomenaDallas Buyers Club, with its splendid performances by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, is formulaic but still a pretty good watch.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is another fine thriller from that franchise, with another amazing performance by Jennifer Lawrence. I also like the Mumblecore romance Drinking Buddies, now available on VOD.

I saw this year’s Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts and was disappointed.  There was nothing to match recent gems like The God of Love or Curfew.  I liked the British short about a particularly bored and malevolent God masquerading as a convict, but that 13 minutes didn’t justify the two hours that I had invested.  A 30-minute Spanish film about child soldiers in Africa was to excruciatingly brutal to justify the trite attempt at a redemptive payoff.  (I haven’t seen the Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts, but I have heard good things about that program.)

Turner Classic Movies has launched its wonderful annual 31 Days of Oscar – filling the entire month with Oscar-nominated movies. This week I recommend the romantic French musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) which is notable for three things: 1) the actors sing all of the dialogue; 2) the breakout performance by then 20-year-old Catherine Deneuve; and 3) an epilogue scene at a gas station – one of the great weepers in cinema history.  I also recommend two great performances by Peter O’Toole screening on February 20, as a lethally driven movie director in The Stunt Man (1980) and as a gloriously dipsomaniacal screen icon in the comedy My Favorite Year (1982).

Movies to See Right Now

Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey (both Oscar-nominated) in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.
Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey (both Oscar-nominated) in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.

Oscar nominees Nebraska, American Hustle and Her all made my Best Movies of 2013.  I also strongly recommend Best Picture nominees The Wolf of Wall Street and PhilomenaDallas Buyers Club, with its splendid performances by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, is formulaic but still a pretty good watch.

Not nominated, but pretty damn good, is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, another fine thriller from that franchise, with another amazing performance by Jennifer Lawrence. I also admire the compelling French drama The Past. And I also like the Mumblecore romance Drinking Buddies, now available on VOD.

I haven’t yet seen the Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts, but I’m gonna because they’re always good.

I’m not a fan of Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks (sentimental and predictable) or the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis (about an unlovable loser – and I didn’t love the movie, either).

My DVD/Stream of the Week features Philip Seymour Hoffman in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Hulu.

Turner Classic Movies has launched its wonderful annual 31 Days of Oscar – filling the entire month with Oscar-nominated movies. This week I recommend two wickedly funny Preston Sturges films – The Great McGinty (inside workings of a corrupt political machine) on February 10 and The Lady Eve (con artist Barbara Stanwyck tries to land the clueless but wealthy Henry Fonda) on February 11. TCM is also cablecasting the Howard Hawkes screwball comedy Ball of Fire, with Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck, on February 11.

Movies to See Right Now

Jonah Hill in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Jonah Hill in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

I’m planning to see the Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts, which opens today – it’s always worthwhile ( plus it helps me win the Oscar pool). You can also find the Oscar Nominated Short Animated a Films and Short Documentaries. The great thing about sampling the shorts is that, even if one short film isn’t your cup of tea, another one is coming along in 15 minutes and  you might like it a lot more.  I’ve never forgotten the touching and funny God of Love, which earned the 2011 Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film.  God of Love won that year’s Oscar over Na Wewe, one of the best films about violence in Africa that I’ve seen.  Similar discoveries could be waiting for you this week.

Oscar nominees Nebraska, American Hustle and Her all made my Best Movies of 2013. I also really recommend Best Picture nominees The Wolf of Wall Street and Philomena. And Gravity has been re-released in 3D.

Not nominated, but pretty damn good, is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, another fine thriller from that franchise, with another amazing performance by Jennifer Lawrence. I also admire the compelling French drama The Past.  And I also like the Mumblecore romance Drinking Buddies, now available on VOD.

I’m not a fan of Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks (sentimental and predictable) or the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis (about an unlovable loser – and I didn’t love the movie, either).

The great Noir City film festival is still running for the next three days, this year with an international flavor. Check it out.

My DVD/Stream of the week is Prisoners. Prisoners is available on DVD from Netflix and Redbox and streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play and Xbox video.

Movies to See Right Now

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Joaquin Phoenix in HER

Oscar nominees Nebraska, American Hustle and Her all made my Best Movies of 2013. I also really recommend Best Picture nominees The Wolf of Wall Street and Philomena.

Not nominated, but pretty damn good, is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, another fine thriller from that franchise, with another amazing performance by Jennifer Lawrence. I also admire the compelling French drama The Past.

I’m not a fan of Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks (sentimental and predictable) or the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis (about an unlovable loser – and I didn’t love the movie, either).

My DVD/Stream of the Week is number 5 on my Best Movies of 2013The Spectacular Now is a spectacularly authentic and insightful character-driven story of teen self-discovery. It’s the best teen coming of age story since…I can’t remember.  The Spectacular Now is now available on DVD from Netflix and Redbox and streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, GooglePlay and Xbox Video.

Movies to See Right Now – with some Oscar nominees

Bruce Dern and Will Forte in NEBRASKA
Bruce Dern and Will Forte in NEBRASKA

The Oscar nominations are out, and Best Picture nominees Nebraska, American Hustle and Her all made my Best Movies of 2013.  I also really recommend Best Picture nominees The Wolf of Wall Street and Philomena.

Not nominated, but pretty damn good, is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, another fine thriller from that franchise, with another amazing performance by Jennifer Lawrence. I also admire the compelling French drama The Past.

I’m not a fan of Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks  (sentimental and predictable) or the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis  (about an unlovable loser – and I didn’t love the movie, either).

My DVD/Stream of the Week is Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, which is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Sundance Now and Xbox Video.

The Past: how life resists our desire to make everything tidy

bejo In the French movie The Past, a French woman has requested that her estranged husband return from Iran to expedite their divorce; he obliges and walks into a family life that gets messier by the minute.  Why does she suddenly want the divorce right now? Can she marry her current boyfriend?  Who are the fathers of all of her kids?  What happened to her current boyfriend’s wife – and why?  As the answers are revealed one-by-one, our understanding of the events and characters evolve.

This shifting viewpoint is similar that into writer-director Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-winning Iranian film A Separation, which I summarized as “brilliant film/tough to watch”.  Farhadi’s art reflects life at its messiness – especially how life resists our desire to make everything tidy and symmetrical.  It all makes for a compelling drama – we care about each character and what’s going to happen.  Each development further complicates the story – all the way up to the movies final shot, which adds another pivotal complication.

The Artist’s Berenice Bejo won Best Actress at Cannes for playing the woman completely overstressed by the pressures that her own choices have brought upon her; (her careworn character is just about 180 degrees from Peppy Miller in The Artist).  The acting is uniformly excellent, and especially by the child actors.

One more thing – in writing and directing the part of the teenage daughter, Farhadi shows that he has a superb understanding of teenage girls.  He captures the mix of self-absorption, volatile unpredictability and the paradoxical yearning for both independence and parental protection, while avoiding turning the character into a sitcom brat.  Indeed, he’s done it before, having directed his own teenage daughter to an excellent performance in A Separation.  This is one of his most notable gifts as a filmmaker.

The realism of The Past may cause some viewers to reflect on their own family drama, so not everyone will find it enjoyable.  Nevertheless, it’s an admirable and thought-provoking story told so very well – right up to that final shot.

Mill Valley Film Fest upcoming

THE PAST

Here’s a heads up for San Francisco Bay Area (and especially Marin) movie fans.  The Mill Valley Film Festival usually offers an early peek at some prestige fall releases, and that is definitely the case this October.

I think the three most promising films are:

  • The Past: The Artist’s Berenice Bejo won Best Actress at Cannes as a Parisian woman divorcing her Iranian husband in Paris amid an increasingly messy family life.  By the director of Oscar-winning A Separation.
  • All Is Lost with Robert Redford as a man battling impossible odds when something goes horribly wrong on his trans-ocean solo voyage.
  • the historical slavery epic 12 Years a Slave (but the only screening, with director and star, is already sold out).

Other films with lots of buzz include:

  • Nebraska:  Director Alexander Payne follows his Sideways and The Descendants with a black and white indie.  Bruce Dern won Best Actor at Cannes for portraying an addled Montana grump who thinks he’s won a junk mail sweepstakes.  His son drives him to Omaha to claim the nonexistent prize, stopping to see some relatives and have some road trip adventures along the way.   There’s also some buzz about the performance of June Squibb (who acted in Payne’s About Schmidt) as the old man’s wife.
  • Philomena:  Judi Dench stars as an Irish woman seeking the son she was forced to give up for adoption.  Co-stars Steve Coogan in a non-ironic role.
  • Blue is the Warmest Color:  This film, which many critics thought was way too long, nevertheless won the top prize at Cannes. Actresses Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux (Farewell My Queen, Midnight in Paris) are reportedly spectacular in this three-hour love story.  One of the explicit sex scenes takes over twenty minutes (TWENTY MINUTES!).
  • The Rocket:  A boy takes his family across war-scarred Laos to enter a rocket contest.  It looks like the kind of movie that I usually don’t like, but it won major awards at the Berlin and Tribeca film fests.

Eventually, I’ll have descriptions and trailers for all these films on my Movies I’m Looking Forward To.  Scroll down to “Later Fall – Prestige Season”.   The Mill Valley Film Festival will run October 3-13  at the Rafael in San Rafael, the Sequoia in Mill Valley and three other Marin venues.