August: Osage County and This Year’s Top 10

August-Osage-County-movie-poster-2013-best-picture-oscarI’m somewhat baffled by the  response that August: Osage County has received by the critics. For me, it was the best film of the year, hands down. Better than Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, and several great films that were released. August: Osage County is electric with extraordinary dialogue rendered by actors who understood every fiber of their characters. Not a single person in this film felt false. While I wish I’d seen the stage play – as I heard it was extraordinary – of course some things would be lost from paring down a 3 hour play to a 2 hour film. But Tracy Letts, the writer for both, won a Pulitzer for this work, and rightly so. His mix of deep pain, wry moments and comic asides is masterful throughout, and I found myself deeply moved.

The dinner scene in this film is far more scary and tense than any horror film, because we are watching people tear at each other without mercy with words rather than any sort of bludgeoning tool.

Indeed, the dialogue and sentences in this film sparkle with intelligence and wit. The claustrophobic nature of the farmhouse is expertly crafted given that it’s surrounded by acres of nothingness. It’s one of the only films this year that I’d like to see twice.

So, here goes my 2013 Top Ten Films:

1. August: Osage County

2. The Place Beyond The Pines, The Dallas Buyers Club – The follies of men, and their need for redemption are expertly captured in these two films.

3. The Way Way Back

4. 12 Years A Slave – A very difficult film to watch that was undone slightly by the late cameo appearance of Brad Pitt.

5. The Kings of Summer – The three boys in the film are wonderful to watch as they navigate their summer away from responsibility only to find how responsible they must be to each other.

6. Gravity – The first 17 minutes and the ambiguous ending elevated this film over the rest of the film, which was merely exciting from the first frame to the last.

7. Her, Before Midnight – two important films about relationships, love, letting go, and the future.

8. Captain Phillips – the last 45 minutes of this film is harrowing stuff and brilliantly acted by Tom Hanks, whom I’d given up on.

9. Fruitvale Station

10. Blue Jasmine, Inside Llewyn Davis

So I really have a top 14 since there were ties and I didn’t want to leave them off the list. Caveat: I haven’t seen Nebraska or Short Term 12 yet, which are definitely on my to see list.

Worst film of the Year: The Wolf of Wall Street – an execrable waste of talent, money and time.

Cloud Atlas: The Play’s the Thing

Cloud Atlas is fantastically entertaining. Bold, ambitious, well-acted and fun. The movie rolls along for nearly 3 hours at a breathtaking clip involving the viewer in stories that span several ages of man. In what must have been extraordinarily challenging, the filmmakers wove the film together bouncing among six different stories connected by one theme: Your past lives inform your next.

Critics are giving this film mixed reviews, which I don’t quite understand. So I ask them: how would you take a novel like David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, which was deemed impossible to translate into film, and create as compelling an experience as the Wachowski siblings and Tom Twyker did? Many of them are complaining that the actors are used over many roles. I personally loved the fact that during the film you kept wondering if that was really Hugo Weaving, or Hugh Grant, or Halle Berry gender and race bending to fill the needs of the story. They forget that this is a device used in the theater quite often, particularly in plays telling panoramic stories. And what fun for the actors? I haven’t enjoyed Tom Hanks in a film in years, but here he is masterful moving through his disparate characters. Halle Berry is particularly good in a seventies story-line involving malfeasance in a burgeoning nuclear world. And Jim Broadbent – what a thrill to watch him have so much fun with his characters of a misbegotten publisher and a megalomaniac of a washed up composer.

The visuals are stunning as well. See it in IMAX if you can, or on the largest screen possible. The soundtrack ramps up the emotion without overdoing it and the editing is simply stunning. I can’t even imagine what those editing sessions must have been like pulling the film together in a way that keeps an audience enthralled for three hours.

This was a hugely ambitious film to undertake, and for that the filmmakers should be applauded. It is no wonder they had such a hard time finding financing, but the high stakes were well worth it, because films like this, that don’t lean on superheroes or orgies of violence, don’t come around very often.

Cloud Atlas is the best film of the year so far for its audacity and for it being such a pleasure to experience.