***This week’s guest post is from Frank Cavillo, our go-to guy for all things film appreciation.***
10. Thanks For Sharing
How this tale of three recovering sex addicts passed by everyone’s radar is beyond me. From the writer of The Kids Are All Right, Thanks For Sharing takes a look at various individuals suffering from sex addiction and the effects theirrecovery has on the people in their lives. Admittedly a less probing look into the subject than 2011’s Shame, Thanks For Sharing’s lighter approach helps lay out the fundamentals of such a disease and the different faces of it. Loaded with both comedy and drama, Thanks For Sharing succeeds in ultimately showing how addiction is truly universal, regardless of whatever type one is saddled with.
9. The Counselor
A feature-length short film, The Counselor noticeably suffers from a few bits of backstory. Exposition problems aside, this story about a seemingly-honest lawyer who embarks on a one-time venture with a powerful drug cartel is endlessly fascinating. The fact that much of the story is shrouded in mystery was a brilliant move on the part of writer Cormac McCarthy (in his screenwriting debut) and director Ridley Scott and gives new meaning to the idea of modern noir. While the ensemble is uniformly excellent, its Cameron Diaz who steals the film in what is probably the strongest role of her career. Its just a shame though that no one can talk about anything other than that car scene.
8. The Family
What would happen if the stars of Goodfellas and Scarface got together with the director of The Professional for a movie? Well the answer is The Family. Starring Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer, The Family features the aforementioned stars as a mafia husband and wife who, along with their children, are relocated to Normandy as part of the witness relocation program where their outrageous habits die hard. Many were harsh on this film upon release, mainly due to its shifts in tone, yet there is so much about The Family to enjoy. First off, its a pleasure to see De Niro and Pfeiffer as husband and wife and their scenes, be they romantic or not, shine with chemistry. Beyond that, the soundtrack is wonderfully random, the final act of the film feels like a great European thriller and the ending is perfectly tongue-in-cheek. Some have scoffed at the amount of violence in the film coming from the family themselves. Case in point, the scene in the grocery store which Pfeiffer blows up after hearing the owner and customers bashing Americans for no reason. As an American having lived abroad for a number of years, having endured similar treatment, the scene resonated with me. Being a rational person, of course, I wouldn’t go that far, but its fun to watch and live vicariously through someone who would.
7. In A World… (review)
One of the most impressive writing/directing debuts in some time, Lake Bell’s In A World… should signal the beginning of a new career phase for the always-reliable character actress. Here, Bell plays Carol, a voiceover artist, whose career aspiration is to follow in the footsteps of her famous father by becoming the first female trailer narrator in a male-dominated industry. The genius of In A World… without question partly lies in its subject matter. The idea of these artists struggle to hold express their talents and hold onto their place in a profession which many moviegoers are quick to dismiss, is front and center and explored to great effect. The feminist statement made within the film though isn’t overwhelming, but honest and Bell’s Carol isn’t portrayed as a wannabe trailblazer, but rather as a true artist who wants to be taken seriously.
6. Now You See Me
Summer blockbusters are hardly anything to get excited about anymore. There was a time when the hot months used to bring forth grandiose and innovative movies bursting with creativity and imagination. Nowadays, you’d be hard pressed to find any summer release NOT a sequel, prequel, remake or adaptation. How refreshing it was then when, Now You See Me, a thrilling comedy caper about a team of illusionists who rob foreign banks and wealthy tycoons as part of their act, while never even leaving the stage. Everything about Now You See Me is fun. The acts themselves are pure spectacle, the mystery itself is just the right amount of light mixed with clever. The script is funny and the eclectic cast is having a blast with their roles. A hit with audiences, Now You See Me was a breath of fresh air this summer that makes one believe that the original spirit of the Summer blockbuster might still exist.
5. Blue Jasmine
As a Woody Allen apologist, I would be called out for putting one of his latter-day films on a list like this. Most other years, anyhow. This year however, the Woodman will no doubt be on a few more that normal with his latest, Blue Jasmine; the story of a former New York socialite who has fallen on hard times and is forced to move in with her sister in San Francisco. Despite shades of A Streetcar Named Desire and the Bernie Madoff scandal, Blue Jasmine is a fascinating look into that group of women, the “social x-rays” as Tom Wolfe so famously described them, and what happens to them when stripped of their credit cards and jewels and taken out of their brownstones. No one writes neuroses better than Allen, but this time around, he offers up more than his trademark humor (which there is plenty of), but also an honest look at the breaking down of a specific type of individual, which might actually deserve sympathy.
4. What Maisie Knew
Adapted from a Henry James novel, What Maisie Knew tells the story of a high-profile New York couple’s messy divorce as seen through the eyes of their young daughter Maisie. The old adage of never working with animals or children was put to rest with this heartbreaking portrait of a child being pulled between households and parents. Newcomer Onata Aprilie was able to convey Maisie’s confusion, happiness and longing in what was probably one of the most impressive child performances in recent years. Though a child is the star, the adult characters are hardly shortchanged, with each character given depth and conflict all their own, resulting in fantastic performances, especially from Julianne Moore as Maisie’s rock star mother. Truly an emotional, yet rewarding film about a child’s power to endure.
3. The Iceman
Michael Shannon turns in yet another remarkable performance in this account of real-life contract killer Richard Kuklinski, who managed to keep his profession secret from his family and friends for decades while killing countless of individuals. Anyone doubting Shannon’s place as one of today’s great American actors should watch his work in what is truly a monstrous and complicated role. The life story of how a man can live a such an extreme double life for years on end is extraordinary in and of itself, but the circumstances are heightened all the more by Shannon’s chilling work as well as that of Winona Ryder’s, who gives her best performance in years as Shannon’s wife. While the audience appeal was understandably low for such a film, it is nonetheless a compelling and well-acted experience.
Very few films had as much of a diverse pedigree as Stoker. Written by TV actor Wentworth Miller, directed by Oldboy helmer Chan-Wook Pak and starring Nicole Kidman, Stoker was considered by some to be a darker version of Dark Shadows. The film tells the story of teenaged India, who upon her father’s sudden death, is introduced to the uncle she has never met, who she both fears and admires. Filled with stunning cinematography and subtle Hitchcockian tension, Stoker combined family drama and psychological mystery into a coming-of-age tale. Featuring great work from the entire cast, in particular Matthew Goode as the suspicious Uncle Charlie, and its director, who gives us one of the best montages ever put to film this year, Stoker might have been a little too even-keeled for some audiences, but for fans of arthouse thrillers, there was plenty to lap up.
1. Side Effects
Now known as Soderbergh’s last film before his self-imposed retirement, Side Effects, the story of a young wife put on prescription drugs to help cope with her husband’s current release from prison, only to be implicated in a murder committed while under the medication, is the sort of classic thriller that is truly a dying breed There isn’t an aspect of the film which doesn’t work. From the casting of the 4 leads, to the muted color palate used throughout the film, to the overall commentary on the pharmaceutical industry, Soderbergh has crafted a supremely engrossing thriller. Though some might spot the major plot twist before its big reveal, the slickness of the film is strong enough to keep audiences hooked until the final moments. Its a testament to Soderbergh’s talent as a director and only further’s our hopes that we haven’t seen the last of him.