Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



Oscar Predictions

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Top Films: Year 2 – Part 1

As 2013 draws to a close, so does the first half of my second year doing this Movie Marathon. When I started last year in July 2012 my goal was to watch one movie a day, everyday, for one year. It was a grueling and challenging year but I eventually met my goal and watched a total of 365 films that year. Going into this second year I set a much more modest goal of watching 135 films and even that seems like it might be a stretch to make. At this point I’m about twenty films behind schedule that I’ll have to make up at some point in the coming six months. But at the same time, I’ve been enjoying this marathon more this year. I have time to relax and can spend more time on films I want to see rather than just to cross off my list. And it’s also given me more time to focus my thoughts on each movie rather than rush through trying to get to the next film of a double, or even triple, feature. A good sign of this is that almost half of all the forty-seven films I saw, I saw in a movie theater including a streak of sixteen films in a row. As I did last year every once and a while, I composed a list of the best films I saw in a given period. This is my list of the top films I watched and reviewed in the past six months, along with brief comments on each and links to the full reviews. Looking ahead to next year, Oscar month will be making a return in January with at least eight (possible more) prior Best Picture nominees and winners. I’ll also strive to watch all of this year’s Best Picture nominees before the Academy Awards on March 2 along with my predictions on who the winners will be. Game Change: From Ed Harris’ and Juliane Moore’s absolutely stellar performances as John McCain and Sarah Palin, to the incredible attention to detail and education potential, to the great drama that it provides in regards to Palin’s personality and likability, Game Change is a terrific film. And it’s not something you need to be a political science major to appreciate. I’m sure not. It’s an entertaining and informative film; plain and simple. Source Code: Directed by Duncan Jones, Source Code is a thought-provoking and engaging film that has many rules and restrictions set in place. And as it often seems with films like this, the restrictions, and more importantly how they’re broken, lead to original and out-of-the-box ideas. Everything won’t make sense, but there is enough structure and coherent information to let your imagination go wild. Roger Ebert said of the film, “you forgive the preposterous because it takes you to the perplexing.” I would amend that the perplexing then takes you to some amazing places of absolute clarity, but bewildering actions.  Elysium: Elysium shows what it’s like to live on a desolated and poverty-stricken Earth, what it means to want something better and fight for it. It also shows how elitist and self-centered people can be. But most importantly of all is it shows us something that we should think of more often: Earth is a miracle. There is a capacity for greatness in a macro- and microscopic scale; it just needs to be seized. And Elysium does the same for films. In an time when most movies are overproduced, repetitive, and action-packed garbage, Neill Blomkamp takes some risks and dares to dream about how blockbusters can be both entertaining and well-made. Barney’s Version: I’ve seen a few comedy-dramas before and I’ve also seen some films that, while labeled both, only deserve one. Barney’s Version however has to be the film most fitting of the hyphenated genre as I’ve never laughed so hard and been in dead silence as I watch what unfolds. All the while you think you’re seeing one film when in fact everything you just saw was something completely different. After hearing such amusing lines, I could not believe how saddened and in disbelief I was when the credits rolled. Any thought of humor went right out the window and all you can think about is how depressing Barney’s Version is. Obviously given that description, this isn’t a film for all occasions, but it is a must-see and a film I know I will see again.  Rush: This may appear to be an action film or an oft told tale of a long-standing rivalry between two men, but this film is much more than that. It’s entertaining, enlightening, and inspiring for it’s wonderful combination of all part of storytelling. There were a few places where it toed the line between being inspirational and being preachy, or between being focused and rambling on, but Rush navigates the course that’s laid out like trying to navigate a racetrack in the pouring rain: something that takes a lot of skill and where one minor mistake can mean your life. Captain Phillips: The big draw for Captain Phillips is two-fold: the action and it’s realism, both of which Paul Greengrass has shown prowess for. Shot in his signature handheld shaky-cam with nary a stationary shot, it adds a level of grittiness and of immediacy. There are enough establishing shots to give you the sense of space (the extreme wide shots of the open ocean are just spectacular) but once that’s taken care of, you’re thrust in with the thick of it, not sure of what’s waiting behind the next corner. While Captain Phillips underwhelmed in some areas, it grossly over-performed in others easily making up for lost ground. One such area is the final scene where Tom Hanks is absolutely astounding and had me at a loss of breath. Gravity: Gravity is a spectacle to behold and will blow your mind for the entire 90 minutes. Alfonso Cuarón directs this masterpiece using a lack of sound and long takes to build up a lot of tension and then skillfully decides where to release it for maximum effect. This is the most suspenseful and dramatic film I’ve seen so far this year and it’s going to be a tough one to beat. Back in September when I saw this, I was calling an early Best Picture nomination and possible win for Gravity. Now that we’re in the awards season and a nomination is all but guaranteed (despite my hesitations about it being a science fiction film), I’m tentatively choosing it for winning Best Picture. It was surely my favorite film of 2013. Lone Survivor: Lone Survivor is to the War in Afghanistan as Saving Private Ryan is to World War II. This is the most intense, realistic, and in-the-action film I’ve seen in a while and really puts you in the shoes and the minds of what our soldiers go through out in the field — at least, as close as you can get through a movie. Not only does it have action and suspense, but it has a band of characters that take you on an emotional journey through, what they call early on, a “cursed” mission.  The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: The Desolation of Smaug is a much darker film than the rest in the Middle Earth series and this gives it a unique feel. It still has the sense of adventure, epic stories, and beautiful vistas with the same amusing characters and detailed mythology. I feel like people will appreciate The Desolation of Smaug more because more things happen and there isn’t as much dead space. Or, if you’re already crazy like I am an enjoy three-hour films, The Desolation of Smaug will be a perfect fit for you. Frozen: Disney knows not only how to tell a good story, but to tell a good story that appeals to a wide variety of people. Frozen is a beautifully written, incredibly visual, and instantly memorable and was entertaining from start to finish. Combine all that with the catchy music and writing that is as close to perfect as you can get. This is a kids film, but as with all great kids films there should still be plenty of appeal for adults, or rather, make us adults want to be kids again, even if only for an hour and half so we can forget about things called responsibilities and just have fun and relax. There is something for everyone to enjoy and twenty years in the future, I think Frozen will be one of those Disney films that all kids will be introduced to; it will be a classic. I’m also calling for this over Monsters University for Best Animated Feature.  Best Comedy: Frozen Best Drama: Gravity Best Classic: Barney’s Version Best New Release: Gravity