TOP TEN FILMS
1. 12 YEARS A SLAVE
2. CAPTAIN PHILLIPS
5. AMERICAN HUSTLE
6. ABOUT TIME
8. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
9. THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE
10. PACIFIC RIM
HONORABLE MENTION FILMS
- Dallas Buyers Club, Fruitvale, Nebraska
- RED HILL
2013 BEST TV EPISODES
#1 THE AMERICANS-S1E1-‘Pilot’
In my mind, the best episode of 2013 was the pilot episode of THE AMERICANS. What a blast this episode is. It effortlessly sets up the premise of a Russian spy couple deep under cover in America, with two unsuspecting American children, in the 1980s. The episode also provides a thrilling tense introductory spy plot. While there is so much to love about this episode, three moments from this pilot really sent it up to #1 in my mind.
First, that beginning chase scene set to the percussive pounding of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Tusk’ is exhilarating. I am a sucker for shows and movies that show aspects of professionalism and I love spy-craft details. Right away, we learn that one of the most important things in a foot race with an armed suspect is to ‘watch the corners’ for an ambush, which makes perfect sense if you think about it. But the idea of scoring this to a song from the 80s is counter-intuitive genius and I found myself grinning more widely the longer the chase went on. And it ends perfectly with Keri Russell’s angry door kick that crashes into the main title.
Second, there is a short fight scene in a tight garage where Keri Russell tussles with a very dangerous spy. At one point, she kicks him hard against the garage drywall and his head actually GOES THROUGH THE FREAKIN’ WALL. I think I swore out loud the first time seeing this. With just that one moment of detail, it becomes abundantly clear how dangerous Keri Russell’s character is and how one really shouldn’t piss her off.
Third, a scene near the end of the episode has the cojones to use Phil Collins’s seminal song ‘In the Air Tonight’ as a non-ironic, passionate soundtrack to a love scene. This song has been used in so many movies as a joke reference to 80s culture, I was shocked that it could play in a scene without me laughing. One of the strengths of the show is that it is determined to stick to its 80s time period and walk that tightrope line of showing us all the awful clothes and trends of that time without having us laugh at these deadly professional people. It must be an extremely difficult balance to strike, but the show-runners make it look easy.
Unfortunately, I thought that the rest of the season never quite reached the quality peak of its own pilot. That being said, it is still better than most anything else you can watch and the work being done by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys is spectacular; it must be a dream to play these characters that have multiple identities and facades that they show to the world and to each other. And I know that this would never happen, but Noah Emmerich, who plays the FBI agent who lives across the street from the Russian spies, deserves awards. His work in the show is a revelation. I mostly remember him as the doofy friend of Jim Carrey in THE TRUMAN SHOW and I thought very little of his acting ability. But there is a scene in the 10th episode of the season where Emmerich is trying to intimidate a suspect by telling him a story about hunting dogs that is the most mesmerizing and subtly terrifying scenes I saw all year. At one point in the scene, Emmerich slaps his hands together loudly and unexpectedly and the camera itself jerks backwards. Emmerich actually scared the cameraman filming the scene. That should give you a hint how good he is. Excellent show, underrated cast, fantastic guest stars, a fearless decision to stick to its time period, and ingenious usage of 80s music, what more can you want? Season two is coming soon (co-starring the talented Wrenn Schmidt, yay!) and you can bet I’ll be there watching.
#2 BREAKING BAD-S5E14-‘Ozymandias’
I’ll try to remain as vague and spoiler-free as here, I know that many of you have not caught up with all of BREAKING BAD. Suffice to say, the last season was just a masterful finale to the strange journey of Walter White. While there were many fantastic episodes in the final season, it was the series ante-penultimate episode that really brought the hammer down on our favorite meth dealer and all those unlucky enough to be caught in his wake.
This episode is more akin to a horror film, best watched between the fingers covering your face. There is a terrifying inevitability to the major set pieces; you can see just how bad things are going to get. That first scene in the desert which gives a strong nobility to a doomed character. That awful domestic scene that pays off on years of investment in the White family dynamics. And finally, Walt’s malicious phone call and the dawning realization in the audience’s mind as we realize the real intent behind his spite. No matter how hard this episode is to watch, it is the most satisfying episode of the year. This episode is all payoff and its delicious to see all the last plot threads play out to their finish. Certainly one of the best shows of all time, it was exciting to see the show exit as gracefully and artistically as it began.
JUSTIFIED is one of my favorite shows of all time. There are so many episodes where I just get lost in the fantastic Elmore Leonard hard-boiled dialogue. Tough guys acting cool, led by the incomparably suave Timothy Olyphant and the sly Walt Goggins. The way these guys find their way around a southern-fried line reading is a thing of beauty. Season 4 ditched the usual Big-Bad season plotting of previous seasons for a straight-up mystery story. While I didn't think it was always successful, I applaud the attempt to change, especially when they pulled it all together for the ante-penultimate episode of the season, 'Convoy'.
There are so many moments of greatness in this episode and what really elevates it above the rest is that each separate storyline is just as good as the others. Ava gets to make a hell of a stand against Detroit mobster Nicky Augustine. Patton Oswalt's silly Constable character gets to demonstrate how much of a badass he really is in a creepy scene set to the melody of 'Love Train'. Y.O.L.O. indeed! Deputy Tim finally gets a storyline that plays off his wartime knowledge and culminates in a hilariously complex phone call about bad screenwriting ideas with a bomb-happy trigger man. Raylan and Boyd got to be adversaries again, trading barbs about astronauts and daddy issues with guns drawn in a school stairwell. And finally, like all the best JUSTIFIED episodes, the physical location, Harlan County, gets to be a key character in the drama. Watching an action drama firing on all cylinders is exhilarating, and the giddiness and confidence demonstrated by the show-runners of this episode launch 'Convoy' into the top 3 episodes of the year.
#4 BOARDWALK EMPIRE-S4E12(Season Finale)-‘Farewell Daddy Blues’
I already posted about this excellent episode back in November, but it bears repeating how well the BOARDWALK EMPIRE show-runners wrapped up the 4th season. Past finales of BE ended with violence, usually tying up the loose ends of all the dangling story threads. This episode had plenty of violence, but it felt very unfinished. So many characters are out in the wind, their fates uncertain, and I really liked this choice to end with so much uncertainty. It creates an air of uneasiness and I am excited to see where they pick up characters next season.
BOARDWALK EMPIRE is really good at eliminating characters at the right time and doesn’t keep characters on past the end of their arc just to satisfy HBO’s desires. There is a character death in this episode that is portrayed in one of the most beautiful sequences I’ve seen on television. The wordless eulogy is both subtle and tender, rhythmic and melancholic, and one of the most artistic movements put on television. For all the strengths of this episode, it is #4 on my Best list based primarily on that lovely montage.
#5 PARKS & RECREATION-S5E14-'Leslie and Ben'
PARKS AND REC is just such a fun show to watch week in and week out. Even if some of the main plot lines aren't my favorite, its guaranteed that somewhere in the episode, Ron or Donna or Andy or Jean-Ralphio or Jamm or the under-used Perd Hapley is always doing something hilarious off in their corner of the show. This episode earlier this year was a culmination of so many things and the giddiness between Ben and Leslie was just wonderful to watch.
But what threw this episode into my top 5 for the year was that scene in the hallway between Leslie and the manliest of all men, Ron Swanson. As they walk down the hall at night, Ron stops her and tells her in a brusque, matter-of-fact manner how much Leslie means to him. And halfway through his compliment, just for a second, his voice catches, and with that moment, you get a quick peek into the enormous well of emotion that Ron is always so careful to hide. It's a tremendous scene, capped perfectly by Leslie's next moment, where she figures out what is waiting for her behind that door and takes a second to savor the quiet before the beginning of the night that will change her life. "Oh boy" indeed. Fantastic episode, fantastic show, and the Golden Globe that Amy Poehler won the other night for her performance was so greatly deserved.
MOST IMPROVED TV show: ARROW
And I’m someone who enjoyed most of ARROW’s first season, but the second season of this show has just been explosive. I read a review on AV Club that mentioned the key trait of current ARROW: swagger. I couldn’t agree more. The show-runners are so confident in their product that they are burning through plot at an incredible rate. The storylines often move so fast, it feels like being strapped to the front of a train. DC comic characters like The League of Assassins, Deadshot, Black Canary, and The Flash are thrown into the mix fully formed with little fanfare. Compare this type of propulsion to the tepid storytelling of AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D, which seems afraid to introduce any of its long list of awesome Marvel characters.
Amazingly for a CW show, ARROW has succeeded largely by eschewing most of its soapier elements for a focus on character. The bond between Ollie and his team, Diggle and Felicity, is extremely strong. The goodwill earned from that trio has spread to improve problematic season one side characters like Roy Harper and Quentin Lance. The mid-season finale employed a ‘Christmas Carol’ plot with a drugged-up Ollie interacting with three ghosts and I was surprised to find myself near tears at the revelation of the third ghost. Even the island flashback scenes have gotten better with the addition of a truly evil adversary and the continued evolution of the always awesome Manu Bennett (formerly of SPARTACUS). There is still a big problem with the character of Laurel, a character who was saddled with a sappy love-triangle last season, and I hope the show-runners are able to rescue her character as they have done so many others in the show. ARROW has become so much more than Stephen Amell working out on a salmon ladder (though that wasn’t a bad place to start). I natter on about plot and character, but the coolest thing this show has done is release this video on the very afternoon of BatKid Day. It's slapdash and not particularly well-acted, but what a wonderful gesture of the cast and crew to get this online as quickly as possible to show that they support that beautiful day in San Francisco. http://popwatch.ew.com/2013/11/15/arrow-batkid/
MOST BEAUTIFUL TV show: HANNIBAL
This show is so dark and horrific, I am shocked that is shown on network television, yet I can't stop looking at the light and colors that compose the palette of each episode. For all the atrocities delved into on-screen, the compositions and colors make this the most beautiful show I've watched in 2013. From deep burgundy reds of clothing to the chocolate browns of Hannibal's home, the colors feel decadently rich baroque, painting the show in a type of soothing visual tweed. Sometimes the show will switch to a leached-out blue/white, especially in dream and crime sequences, and that switch from rich to cold colors made me feel a yearning to go back to comforting brown scenes, like in Hannibal's library. To use color and light to incite an emotion empathy with a morally ambiguous character is nothing new, but the fact that these subtleties are being employed on a NBC serial-killer drama is down-right amazing.
This is not an easy show to watch. It is gory and depressing and defies binge watching. But all three leads, Mads Mikkelsen, Hugh Dancy, and Laurence Fishburne are doing tremendous work. Watching Fishburne act out a tragic scene with his real-life wife was one of the best television scenes of the year. And in comparison to flashier cop shows like CSI or NCIS, this show really tries to get across the weight of death and the impact that mortality has upon law enforcement. Plus, some of the dream sequences are the trippiest things I have seen outside of TWIN PEAKS. To end on a lighter note, the 2nd most beautiful show this year for me was REVOLUTION. It may be the silliest show on television right now (which isn't saying much), but the show-runners really pumped up the color saturation so things like the actors' deep tans and blue eyes just pop out of an HD television set. Turn off your mind and watch the pretty colors!
2013 FB MOVIES/TV POSTS
One of my favorite film classes in college taught us how to analyze the composition of a single film shot. We would learn about negative space and how to tell character back-story through the careful placement of objects on the screen. It could get insanely detailed; like the theory that horizontal lines in a film shot (buildings, tables, etc.) are calming for the audience psyche while diagonal lines (stairways, hill slopes), are subliminally unsettling. We would compare shots in radically different films, the most hilarious to my mind being when we compared the Odessa Steps sequence in Eisenstein's 1925 film BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN to the gunfight/opera performance in THE FIFTH ELEMENT starring Bruce Willis. I'm not sure how much I believe in the literature about the philosophical ramifications of shot selection, but it sure was damn fun to study. Hitfix.com is one of my go-to entertainment consumption sites, and every year they come up with my favorite article: The Top Ten Shots of the Year. They started this article series in 2007, coincidentally when THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD was released, which is a movie that exists to showcase the best shots ever conceived. Not only do the Hitfix editors come up with dynamite analysis for their selections, but they often interview the movie's cinematographer and ask them specifically about the filming of the selected shot. If you have some time over the holidays and love film, I highly recommend you check out these fascinating articles. http://www.hitfix.com/in-…/the-top-10-shots-of-2012-part-one
Finally got around to catching MUD, and wow, what a wonderful film. I love a movie that immerses you in an unfamiliar world and MUD does just that; soaking you in its muddy southern river culture. I'd read all about McConaughey's performance, and while his sly trickster portrayal is a big part of the film, he is not at all the main character. The main plot is surprisingly quiet and thoughtful, tackling big themes of women and love and marriage despite the ever-simmering threat of violence. Plus there is always the primary fun in watching any Jeff Nichols film: spotting all the fantastic character actors he steals from HBO series. And in case you aren't touched as I was by the journey, this movie is breathtakingly gorgeous in terms of its locations and hazy sunset cinematography. Maybe because I still fashion myself a restless cowboy at heart, that last scene tugged at me in a way few films have in a long time. Lovely film, highly recommended.
I will be as spoiler-free as possible, but seriously SONS OF ANARCHY, what the crap was that season finale?! I know that Kurt Sutter considers his show to be Hamlet on Harleys, but if you are copying the Bard, your tragedies need to feel inevitable and true to character. You can’t suddenly have your characters start behaving like idiots just to get them from misunderstanding to disaster. If we are supposed to actively despise the Teller/Morrow family at this point, then mission accomplished.
This kind of feeds into a problem I am seeing with antihero dramas these days. It seems like showrunners are starting to fall in love with their anti-heroes, depicting them as actual heroes instead of having them face the consequences of their actions. This was a big problem with DEXTER and it seems that SOA is falling into that same trap.
But who am I kidding, I’m still going to watch the final SOA season next year. So maybe everything is working out exactly according to Sutter’s master plan, mua-ha-ha!
Well, even though its a ugly crumbling cement monstrosity of a stadium, I'm going to miss Candlestick Park. I went to my last Candlestick 49ers game yesterday for a close win over the Seahawks. I remember being a Bay Area kid and just the name 'Candlestick' held a mythical and mysterious place in my head. The place where the legends like Montana and Rice played as fogged-in heroes of the gridiron. Even when the name changed for awhile, first to 3Com then to Monster, it was always Candlestick Park. One more game now, then it will be demolished for the newest NFL championship stadium down in Santa Clara. It's a fantastic move for the franchise, further cementing the 49ers' status in the upper echelons of the league, but still, the Stick, and the 49ers SF home, will be missed. Our tickets commemorated the 'Vernon Post' from the 49ers/Saints game in 2012 as the 2nd greatest moment in Candlestick history. I found a post I wrote about that game that, in retrospect, is pretty hilariously sloppy and passionate. http://www.sasquatchfilms.net/sqog/49ers
What a sad sad loss today, my goodness. As I tend to do with everything, for better or sometimes for worse, I filter these things through entertainment. And the closest I felt to understanding the impact of Nelson Mandela was through his depiction in the movie INVICTUS. I actually didn't think a great deal of this film because I couldn't get past the idea that the film was sold as a story about Mandela, but was largely told through Matt Damon's footballer character. Plus, it was really hard for me to get past Damon's distracting accent.
But I guess the one thing that I remembered from the movie was a couple scenes that really emphasized Mandela's singular ability to forgive. If the movie tells the story right, even after being imprisoned for 27 years, Mandela never acted in retribution towards the representatives of the government that incarcerated him. How is that possible?? When I get cut off driving on the highway, I often act as if that driver has committed a grave injustice upon my very soul, tantamount to murder. I guess we were just lucky that someone so much better than most of us eventually rose high enough to demonstrate to the world what a compassionate and moral leader can do. I also have to link the Onion article, because in their own light and teasing way, they totally nailed it. http://www.theonion.com/…/nelson-mandela-becomes-first-po…/…
Waaay late on my opinion here, but I thought that THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE was superior in every conceivable way to the first film. With a larger budget, they were able to jettison the god-awful shaky-cam from the first one and also do justice to the book descriptions of the fiery parade outfits worn by Katniss and Peeta. The interviews with the tributes was just as moving as in the book and the way in which Katniss enters the arena was just as shocking and awful as I imagined it. The ending of the film certainly is abrupt, but I liked the emotional hardening going on in that last shot. I was amazed that the character I had the strongest emotional connection to was, of all people, Effie Trinket. Elizabeth Banks really did a fantastic job of giving that air-headed nincompoop character a conscience. When Effie shows how much it pains her to read the names of the tributes, she represents the faceless population of the Capital and their escalating sympathy for the tributes. It starts to drive home the point that the film repeatedly makes: that no one wins the Hunger Games, they only survive. That is a sobering idea to keep in mind as the series continues and hopefully a line that will stick in the minds of the studio heads who are actually considering building a Hunger Games theme park.
Without a doubt, one of the most under-appreciated actors in Hollywood these days is Jeffrey Wright. Over the past two weeks, he has appeared in both the season finale of BOARDWALK EMPIRE as the sadistically magnetic Dr. Narcisse, and in THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE as the mechanically-inclined tribute Beetee. Yet, I have not seen one major interview or article with the man in the past month. He excels at small character roles, seeming to base his characters off of an incredible ability to completely change his voice and speaking style. if you compare his Belize in ANGELS IN AMERICA to his Colin Powell in W or Dr. Narcisse in BOARDWALK, its hard to believe its the same actor. He is probably best known as Felix, Bond's American friend in CASINO ROYALE, which is just sad when he has so many rich characters in his repertoire. On a slow weekend sometime, check out his wounded role as the title character in BASQUIAT. Or if you want action, check out his tragic turn in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. Or even better, watch his volcanically insane performance as Peoples Hernandez in SHAFT. Wow. Now, SHAFT is just about the silliest movie ever, but Wright's rivetingly bug-nuts villain blows even the great Samuel L Jackson right off the screen. Someone give this man a lead role that he can tear into!
I'm not one to demand that our celebrities be role models for society, but it is always inspiring to find an actor who uses their wealth and unique influence to try and better the world. I feel bad that the only reason I know that Paul Walker started Reach Out Worldwide (a relief organization that I actually know from the news and not from an actor's publicist), is because he passed away over the weekend. He was not our most talented actor (though I did like his panicky desperation in JOY RIDE), but it sure seems like he was a damn decent human being.
BOARDWALK EMPIRE tends to back up on my DVR. Despite being meticulously acted and beautifully filmed, I'm often left cold by some of the plots and characters. But for me, the end of this season flew by. Even without a villain as volatile as Gyp Rosetti from last year, I loved this season's re-tuned focus on the complex Chalky White and the ferocious Eli Thompson. The finale was dark and tough, but the final montage was one of the most beautiful, artistic, tender, and yes, emotionally moving moments I have seen on television this year.
I often get annoyed when a show doesn't trust me to feel a certain way during a montage, so they batter my ears with a melancholy song that insists that I should feel sad (I'm looking at you SONS OF ANARCHY!). I am so impressed that the director of the BOARDWALK finale chose not to include music over that last montage, instead letting the images speak for themselves and allowing the audience to choose how they want to feel about the fate of a certain character. Damn good television.
Channing Tatum's play on last week's Van Damme splits video. Looks like he is still keeping his sense of fun while filming 22 JUMP STREET. It was said many times last year during Tatum's breakout, but it bears repeating: Channing, keep doing everything you are doing. You are awesome. That is all. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMlpiey20b8
Two wildly different music videos were released recently, and wow, I am speechless at both. First off, this insane Kanye video (a bit NSFW, though it did show on ELLEN today) for his song 'Bound 2'. It's hypnotic, I can't stop staring at its awfulness. As a fan of 80s power ballads, I kind of liked the Chicago-style beginning, but then it takes a hard turn into WTF territory with badly green-screened shots of Kanye and Kim Kardashian riding the most suggestive motorcycle ever. I'm positive the bad green-screen is purposeful, but for the life of me, I can't figure out why. Is Kanye going for some kind of music video satire? Something like an I-know-its-bad-therefore-its-so-bad-that-it-becomes-good-again loophole? And why is every shot of Kanye so terribly lit, you can never actually see his whole face?! Whew, I don't know man, this is some rampant egotism here, but maybe just getting a reaction was the entire goal of the video. Hmm, Trevor confused. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_6I089_mrE#t=197
Yesterday's news, but this is too good not to post. Jean-Claude Van Damme makes this ad incredible and thanks to some over-the-top Enya music, unintentionally hilarious (tangent: what ever happened to Enya? Orinoco Flow was the best!). Van Damme's BLOODSPORT was a seminal VHS viewing when I was a teen and his bug-nuts performance in the final fight is a must-see for action movie aficionados. Long live the career of The Muscles From Brussels! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7FIvfx5J10
Mid-November resolution: Going to post more often. After all, I do work here. For those looking for political opinions, incisive social commentary, or motivational quotes, this is not the place. For silly links and personal commentary about movies and television shows, stick around.
The first trailer for the film I worked on last year with the talented Mynette Louie and Tze Chun!
Exclusive Cold Comes The Night trailer starring Bryan Cranston: watch now
From Walter White to Russian crim
The actor given to me by Jonathan Ferrantelli: Kate Beckinsale
Loved: Last Days of Disco, Snow Angels, Nothing But The Truth
Liked: Much Ado About Nothing
Hated: Whiteout, Total Recall
Hate to Love: Serendipity
Note: Maybe not the best actress out there, but she is on the top of Trevor’s laminated list for Most Attractive Actress Ever. I have actually seen every movie she has been in, which has often been a slog. Judge away!
Like this and you’ll get an actor.
The actor given to me by Matthew McCue: Bridget Fonda
Loved: A Simple Plan, Army of Darkness (her cameo barely counts, “Hail to the King baby!”),
Liked: Jackie Brown
Hated: Lake Placid
Hate to Love: Doc Hollywood (this was a formative movie for me)
Like this and I'll assign you an actor.
Another creatively inspiring year at Sundance with great friends and more than a few damn funny stories. But I think next year I'll have to change out my 2006 badge pic. Would you make a movie with this guy??
Thought everyone might enjoy this Olympics video I edited. I can't wait to see what stunning feats and heroic stories will capture us this year!
I'm going to steal this link from Sohrab, an article about how the incredible cinematographer Roger Deakins created 10 of his most famous film shots. Lovely article that touches upon the many 'happy accidents' that happen on a film set. Though they miss one of my favorite Deakins shots which is the long revealing fade-in shot that begins TRUE GRIT. http://www.vulture.com/…/how-master-dp-roger-deakins-got-th…