Not Exactly My Oscars

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I see a lot of movies.

Not as many as a critic does, but probably more than you do.

22-the-great-beautyI saw roughly 30 2013 releases, including some very good ones that you’ve never heard of. I’m still catching up. I’ll see “Dallas Buyer’s Club” today, and also on my list in the near future are “Upstream Color,” “Philomena,” “Nebraska” and “The Everlasting Now.” (I often wait and try to see as many movies as possible on Trinity’s big screen with fabulously well-maintained projection and sound equipment. The multiplexes don’t even keep up with recommended maintenance on their projector lamps. Half the time, they’re not even able to realize the basic production values of the movie.)

I’m distrustful of picking absolute winners, most of the time. Movies touch us in so many ways, but maybe one could simplify those ways into Art / Pleasure / Social Conscience. Occasionally a movie will touch us in all of those ways, but more typically, a good movie will play on only one or two sensibilities. So, for me, among the much-touted movies of the year, “12 Years a Slave” (Social Conscience and Art) bumps up against “America Hustle (Pleasure and Art). I’m glad I don’t have to give out a Best Movie award, but if I did, those two would be finalists.

Which movies count? That’s another good question. Maybe the only 2013 movie to which I would ascribe true, lasting greatness is “The Great Beauty,” Paolo Sorrentino’s journey through the beautiful and damned haute society of modern day Rome. The soundtrack and cinematography alone are such titanic undertakings as to make the year’s other films look kind of puny. But that movie isn’t really part of the national conversation, so what are you going to do?

Here are my other Not-Exactly-Oscars.

Not Exactly Comedies. Nobody really makes “Bringing Up Baby” anymore, right? Comic movies are divided between what Vincent Canby called “slob comedies” and movies that, while funny, do not fully commit themselves as purely comic undertakings. There were some pretty good examples of that latter hybrid species last year, and they tended to be ignored by the awards system. “Enough Said” was the best, with glowing performances by James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss. I was also quite fond of Lake Bell’s comedy about voice artists, “In a World” and (despite its somewhat self-conscious desire to be the next “Little Miss Sunshine”) “The Way Way Back.” I loved Liam James, the kid who played Pop ‘n’ Lock; and Sam Rockwell’s shameless scene-stealing.

Not Exactly Hits. There were some pretty good movies that nobody saw. Those of us who did see “Short Term 12” tended to admire it and think that Brie Larson gave one of the year’s great performances. I even found one writer who picked it as her Number One. Also quickly forgotten was the modernized Henry James adaptation “What Maisie Knew.” And maybe you’d have to put “All Is Lost” in this category. The Chandor/Redford movie operates on so many levels  — an allegory about aging and death and a sharp commentary about ocean shipping. It asks a question that “Captain Phillips” plows right over — to what degree have we parked our anti-humanism out on the high seas where 90 percent of everything goes whizzing by on container vessels? And the Alexander Ebert score would be the best of the year, if not for “The Great Beauty.”  I still haven’t seen “Rush,” but everything tells me it belongs in this category.

Not Exactly As Good As You’ve Been Told. “Gravity” lost me when Clooney’s character asked Bullock if she was married. They’d been training for months and living in very close quarters for days, maybe weeks. This never came up? It was the telltale symptom of a movie so caught up in tech values that the human story sputtered. “The Wolf of Wall Street” is short-listed for everything because Marty/Leo cannot be ignored. But they should have been this time. And I love Noah Baumbach, but “Frances Ha” was ho-hum.

Not Exactly Top or Bottom. Joss Whedon’s easygoing “Much Ado About Nothing” and Woody Allen’s Cable Car Named Desire “Blue Jasmine” are mid-list movies worth seeing. And  “Prisoners,” an attempt to make a Hitchcockian horror film — by which I mean something in the “Frenzy” and “Psycho”  vein — might pleasantly surprise you.

Not Exactly What I Had In Mind. Two major franchises totally squandered opportunities this year.  It’s not that, um, hard to make a good “Die Hard” movie. There’s a formula. “A Good Day To Die Hard” ignored it and became, by an order of magnitude, the worst of the series. (The proper ranking, I believe, is 1, 3,4,2………………..5.) And “Star Trek: Into Darkness” ignored the thing that separates that franchise from other sci-fi action movies — the degree to which it’s really about an incredibly complex and diverse workplace in which people of different backgrounds and temperaments work under enormous pressure, using grit and humor to muddle through. Abrams made an ordinary sci-fi action movie with familiar characters.

(I’m) Not Exactly Up To Speed on Docs. Like everybody else , I adored “20 Feet From Stardom.” Unlike everybody else, I (in the audience at BIFFMA) was treated after the showing to an impromptu concert by Darlene Love, who walked out onstage and sang “Lean On Me” to us. “Crash Reel” is a surprisingly engrossing movie about an Olympic snowboard hopeful with s brain injury. “The Summit” is kind of a mess because of all the unidentified re-created footage but I was still gripped by its depiction of K2 sociopathy. And “Caesar Must Die” is a thought-provoking movie, but I was never sure — and still am not — what was documentary and what was fiction.

 “Obscure” Does Not Exactly Cover It. If you can find it, “Prince Avalanche” (Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch as guys, I swear, painting yellow lines on roads) is better than its current invisible status would suggest. And “The Forgotten Kingdom,”  an odyssey set in the rugged terrain of Lesotho is imperfect but powerful.



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