Critics are calling this a banner year for films. I call it a banner year for over-rated films. Studios wait until the end of the year to release their serious Oscar hopefuls, and critics are so glad to review movies that aren’t about superheroes, they compete by piling on superlatives. Here is my take on the Hits and Misses for 2013:
–12 Years A Slave: lacks plot, which makes it slow. But the subject matter – America’s holocaust – is so intense, and the character web is so well constructed, it will probably win best picture. If Academy members vote with their hearts instead of their conscience, Gravity will win. If actors overwhelm the vote, American Hustle takes the prize. You decide.
–All Is Lost: who thought this movie about a silent man on a sinking ship should be made? Paint dries faster than this. And Robert Redford’s acting doesn’t begin to make up for it.
–American Hustle: another con man story (like The Wolf of Wall Street), funnier than Goodfellas, but not nearly as well crafted or intelligent. A good script and film that could have been great.
–August: Osage County: A Long Day’s Journey into Night in Oklahoma. Unwatchable. I would rather get my teeth drilled without Novocain than see this movie again.
–Blue Jasmine: A Streetcar Named Desire stops in San Francisco. A terrific performance by Cate Blanchett, but Woody, please stop copying great writers when you write serious drama, and Writers Guild and Academy, please stop nominating him for sub-standard work (see also August: Osage County).
–The Butler: I’m sorry, I should have said “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” After a shaky and preachy start and some unfortunate casting, this film builds steadily to a powerful, emotional finale, thanks largely to a fine, ambitious script by Danny Strong. But Lee, you’re the director, so go ahead and take all the credit.
–Captain Phillips: a realistic action film that hurtles you toward the point of the vortex. Not deep, but beautiful execution of writing, directing, editing and acting.
–Dallas Buyers Club: an episodic script with some powerfully written scenes, a strong main character and two knockout performances. Shows the difficulty, and potential power, of writing the memoir-true story form.
–Enough Said: an awkward moment stretched to ninety minutes.
–Gravity: visually stunning realistic horror story in outer space. But is it too much to ask for more plot than a cartoon and more character than a cliché?
–Her: this small script is a thought experiment showing that love is painful, no matter what form the lover takes. Finally, the proof we’ve all been waiting for. Less than meets the eye.
–Inside Llewyn Davis: the ultimate man of missed opportunities is defined by not acting, which makes this film really dull. Literally, nothing happens. But it’s the Coen brothers so it must be one of the best movies of the year, right? Great soundtrack even if you don’t love folk music.
–Nebraska: a sweet story with less drama than the Nebraska landscape. But it’s in black and white, which automatically makes it profound.
–Saving Mr. Banks: the writers use the risky story strategy of crosscutting between two storylines – which fails 90% of the time – and they make it work with a big emotional payoff. Of course, Disney could have avoided all these problems if he had just realized that Travers was telling a traveling angel story. And there’s something deeply troubling about a movie that attacks a writer for wanting to protect her work from being Disney-fied.
–The Way Way Back: this little coming of age comedy-drama was one of the best-written films of the year. Very funny and emotionally truthful. It hasn’t been nominated for anything, but the script is better than 2/3 of the best screenplay nominees.
–The Wolf of Wall Street: the script is 45 minutes too long, but this rise and fall tale of an American cult leader has some brilliant monologues and DiCaprio’s best performance ever. To show why the religion of money has such a hold on American culture, writer Terence Winter has to show a charismatic preacher. But to say that he is glorifying this guy is false.