Top 10 Films of 2013 So Far

Ignore the 12 month calendar, when it comes to movies, the year is divided into two seasons: before the fall, and after the fall. We get mid-level genre fare from January until May, along with a couple of second-tier blockbusters. Summer brings out the big franchise sequels, and a few well-reviewed indies as counter-programming. But any studio—large or small—that has a promising movie made with artistry and intelligence, usually holds it back till the unofficial beginning of Oscar season, heralded by three festivals (Venice, Telluride, and Toronto) that take place in early September.

In Hollywood wisdom, this is where anything aimed at adults begins the four month race toward Academy Award nominations—without which, box office prospects are considered severely impaired. So, what this means for moviegoers, is that for right months we bemoan the lack of anything good in cinemas, catch up on all the quality cable TV shows, then find ourselves scurrying to catch up with a sudden embarrassment of riches, many of which get lost in the hustle. It’s a sad state of affairs, but it’s the way things are, and hey, at least we get a few months when loving movies is not a zero sum game.  

And yet, 2013 has been a schizophrenic year. On the one hand, the multiplexes have been filled with the usual bloated lowest-common-denominator dreck, but on the other, indie movies have been much stronger than usual, and I can count at least 10 films released thus far that I would heartily recommend without reservation. So, without further ado, my personal best of 2013, at the unofficial half-way point before the quality onslaught begins.  

Honorable Mentions: Pacific Rim was dumb as a brick, and yet, a movie aimed at 12-year-old boys that made me feel (and cheer) like one. The Great Gatsby was an over-stylized mess, and yet a bold and unique interpretation of a classic text. Spring Breakers‘s hallucinatory fever dream eventually fizzled, and yet contained a balls-out brilliant performance by James Franco. World War Z was instantly forgettable, robbed of the novel’s socio-political satire, and yet an undeniably exciting thrill ride with some fantastically realized set pieces.  

10. Stories We Tell

While I wasn’t a fan of Sarah Polley’s first two directorial outings, there’s no denying the emotional power and skilled construction of her very personal documentary essay—which interweaves an entire family’s memories and secrets into a fascinating rumination on the various facets of  so-called "shared truths" and the different ways people construct narratives from the seen and unseen events of their lives.   

 

9. Mud

Though not as transcendent or mind-blowing as Take Shelter, Jeff Nichols’ third feature is a well-told, laid-back Southern yarn, that blends Twain and Dickens for a sweet yet unsentimental coming of age story set in the swamplands of the Bayou, as a young boy’s chance encounter with an ex-con brings his ideas and notions about love crashing into reality.  

 

8. Frances Ha

Like an episode of Girls directed by Woody Allen, Noah Baumbach makes his best movie since Squid and the Whale, with this rarest of beasts—a romantic comedy with no romance. Greta Gerwig creates a vivid, completely unique character, whose growth and maturation has, refreshingly, absolutely nothing to do with finding a man.  

 

7. The East

Brit Marling writes herself a great role in this smart, complex thriller set in a grass roots eco-terrorist cell. The moral nuances are embraced, the characters are believable and fully realized, the pace is exciting, and the themes urgent and relevant without ever being preachy.  

 

6. Blue Jasmine

Woody’s best movie since Vickiy Cristina Barcelona is a searing indictment of 1% entitlement, and in Cate Blanchett’s performance, contains the best special effect of the year. Her performance is a thing to be amazed by—a slow motion breakdown that is never less than utterly hypnotic, and no matter how despicable, still manages to somehow, strangely retain our sympathies due to its unavoidable, messy humanity.

   

5. The World’s End

Edgar Wright’s third and final film in the loosely connected "Cornetto Trilogy" (`after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) is hysterically funny, riotously entertaining, mind-bogglingly ambitious, and actually, genuinely about something: the dead end nature of nostalgia, the corporatization of culture, the effect of time on friendships, and the self-destructive yet utterly unique nature of the human ego, that sets us apart from all other species, animal or alien. Like Invasion of the Body Snatchers beating up the The Big Chill after a dozen pints at a stand-up comedy night, The World’s End is two completely different films unapologetically smushed together to make something brilliant and unique, and the final ten minute epilogue is the most brazenly left-field and inspired ending I’ve seen this decade.  

 

4. Short Term 12

Depicting the lives of a young couple as they navigate a roster of damaged, abused kids in a foster care facility, this absolute gem navigates truly treacherous terrain and somehow manages to avoid cheap sentiment and predictability, achieving its own kind of clear-eyed grace without ever hitting a false note. Brie Larson is a revelation as a woman whose no-bullshit  compassion with her young charges conflicts with her struggles to heal her own past, but the entire cast does stand-out work in this hard-hitting, deeply humane, genuinely important film about the actual skill it takes to love others, and ourselves.

   

3. Upstream Color

Shane Carruth’s second feature after the Sundance-winning Primer, is one of the boldest American art films of this young century, that practically invents its own cinematic language. There are elements of plot, there are characters, but the narrative follows the logic of dreams and emotions, which, if you surrender to their flow, provide a truly unforgettable trip (in all senses of the word). I’m not sure I can tell you what it all means—it involves identity-theft, fear of intimacy, alienation, love, and ur… pigs—but it made sense to me at a deeply sub-conscious level, and there are images and scenes forever burned into my brain, that still have me in awe. An uncompromised work of art by a true visionary auteur—this is the future of independently financed, independently made, independently distributed film, that breaks the mold of all pre-existing cinema within the prevailing, and failing, current system. A one-of-a-kind masterpiece, pure and simple.

   

2. Before Midnight

The perfect end to a perfect trilogy. Richard Linklater’s third and final rumination on romance is one of the most mature, realistic, yet deliciously enthralling depictions of a long term relationship, beyond its characters’ fantasies and idealized expectations of what love should be. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke are mesmerizing in their conversational dance around each other’s alter egos, who, after 20 years and sojourns in three European countries, reveal layers and complexities that most films daren’t even attempt. Before Midnight works as a great stand alone movie, but as the third part of a larger whole, completes one of the strangest and genuinely romantic cinematic experiments of all time.

   

1. The Grandmaster

Absolutely avoid the dumbed-down butchered version currently screening in US cinemas, head down to Chinatown or `yes.asia.com’, and buy the full, uncut, 130 minute Chinese version, in all its overstuffed, culturally specific glory. This jaw-droppingly beautiful movie is like Dr. Zhivago with martial arts, an elegiac tone poem for the honor-bound, highly coded world of kung fu before it spread its reach to the outer world. Ostensibly a biopic of Bruce Lee’s teacher, Ip Man, it is above all, another masterpiece from Wong Kar-wai, and like the rest of his oeuvre,  a highly stylized, achingly romantic mood mosaic about beautiful, heartbroken smokers, with the added bonus of the most hands down awesome fight sequences since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  

 

 

And that’s it for the first eight months. The rest of the year begins with a bang now, as I head down to the Toronto film festival. Stay tuned for thoughts on Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, The Past, Prisoners,  and many, many more, as we collectively forget the calamities on most studios’ slates, believe in a world where art and commerce happily co-exist, and let the fall feast of films begin.  

Daniel Hardy lives in a cabin in the woods, watches a lot of movies, and occasionally writes screenplays for a living. 

The Best Films to Watch Without Ever Leaving Your Bed This Week

I often wonder if people are simply watching films with the wrong muscle. So many people nowadays enter into a film looking to impress their analytic and intellectual eye upon the work, geared towards their own bent or marching in with an agenda, not allowing the heart to do its job. When making his pastel fever dream 3 Women, Robert Altman said that he wanted to create a film that was pure emotion, that when you walked out of the theater, it wasn’t the ideas you could articulate but the feeling that dripped off your skin. And that’s a sentiment I look for in whatever film I enter, giving myself over to what’s happening before me. But that’s not to say it works every time or that having a critical eye isn’t necessary or films should be void of detailed study and only exist in a realm of feeling, of course, but intellect is not everything. 

So what better way to truly allow yourself to succumb to a great film than from the comfort of your bed? And with an enormous wealth of films streaming at your fingertips, you’re now able to gain access to films that may not have made it into the cinemas near you. From some of 2013’s best films thus far, to classics sure to please any film fan, I’ve rounded up some of the best films to watch this weekend from beneath the sheets. Enjoy.

 

Stoker

As deliciously evil and thrilling as it is visually-rich and haunting, Park Chan-wook’s fantastical gothic thriller Stoker plays out like an erotic waltz with sinister intentions. As his first English-language film, the acclaimed Korean director has crafted a quiet kind of suspense that shows the graceful unraveling of an isolated American family….It’s a story about he inherent nature of evil, as well as the sexual awakening of a young girl when first tempted by the desirable. India’s coming-of-age is the undercurrent for this bone-chilling and stunning feature from Chan-wook and writer-actor Wentworth Miller. Staying true to Park’s strong affinity for character-driven tales and his arresting visual style,Stoker is also enhanced by its biting and beautiful soundtrack from Clint Mansell that acts as its own character in the film. (available on iTunes)    

To the Wonder

What’s best about Terrence Malick’s work is how so much of it exists in memory. Time flows with the spirituality of a dream and the scenes presented swim in and out of consciousness like the recollection of a feeling or image existing in an ineffable realm beyond words. And with the follow up to his examination of creation, The Tree of Life, Malick’s To The Wonder takes a poetic look at the hazards of love throughout our lifetime, equating divinity with feeling and compassion. Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko star as lovers that weave in and out of a relationship—from the hopeful and tender beginnings of their love in Paris to the detachment that comes upon moving to a rural town in America. David Jenkins said that Terrence Malick "doesn’t make films anymore, he builds cathedrals.” And as a sublime and beautiful companion piece to The Tree of Life, his latest emotional epic  tackles the same questions of existence as his last film, but this time through the eyes of love and the confounding complexities within ourselves that hold us captive and barricade us from connection to our own spirit and that of others. (available on iTunes)    

 

Before Sunset

At one point in Before Sunrise, Jesse begins to admit that in the months leading up to his wedding, he couldn’t stop thinking of Celine. He would see her everywhere, all the time, always in New York—especially once folding up an umbrella and entering a deli on 13th and Broadway. But she was off living in Europe somewhere, so he knew he was crazy. And of course, Celine then tells him that she was actually living in New York at that time—on 11th and Broadway.  It’s a small moment but an absolutely heartbreaking one—knowing that their lives could have been entirely different had he just glanced out of the car window again to see if it was her, knowing that this person whom he met once, yet possessed him so completely as an intangible longing inside him, was in fact right under his nose— and he never knew it. They never knew it.  But yes, that’s is just one of many painfully wonderful and sob-inducing moments in Richard Linklater’s transcontinental love trilogy. And since Before Sunrise’s premiere in 1994, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke have been our Celine and Jesse, playing out the epitome of rare requited love thwarted by time and space. You watch these films, and for all the tears you cannot help but shed, you’re always left with the pangs of hopefulness. It excites something in you and tickles your heart to know that somewhere on a tram in Europe, your ideal soulmate could be pensively starring out a window wondering if there’s something he’s missing. (available on iTunes)    

 

Prince Avalanche

As a minimalist character study in an isolated and absurd environment, David Gordon Green’s latest film, Prince Avalanche, takes the buddy comedy genre for a spin, strips it bare, and gives it feeling. Starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch as an unlikely duo sequestered in the fire-ravaged woods of Texas, the film grows on you as it unfolds. We watch the men deal with the psychological hurdles of heartbreak and existential dilemmas, as they’re not only forced to confront that which they detest in one another, but also in themselves. ..Taking place in a strikingly beautiful landscape, the film examines two lost and bizarre men working together as highway road workers painting lines down vacant road who spend the summer of 1988 away from their lives in the city. Rudd’s Alvin carries a quiet intensity as the seemingly more mature of the two, who longs for his solitude and true experience in nature while dealing with the frustrations of his fading romance. Playing his foil, Hirsch’s Lance is the goofy younger brother of said girlfriend, whose presence comes as a nuisance to Alvin with his oft idiotic and childish behavior. And although simple in structure, there’s a surreal and mystical tone to the film that lives in the glowing skies and remnant ashes scattered through the woods. (available on iTunes)    

Spring Breakers

Sure, Spring Breakers has an easy allure: sex, drugs, violence, and gun-toting saccharine-sweet Disney stars in bikinis. But there’s more to Harmony Korine’s neon-fueled rite of passage tale than meets the bloodshot eye. Like a candy-coated nightmare, Korine gives a raw portrayal of what at first appears to be a fun and breezy ride filled with sparkles and the promise of escape from life’s mundane ennui, butSpring Breakers cuts deep and goes dark and filthy into places that frighten, mystify, tantalize, and thrill with a mix of pure pleasure and pain. Like a scratched album stuck on repeat, Spring Breakers follows four college girls who rob a diner a in order to fulfill their escapist fantasies of heading down to St. Petersburg, Florida for a debaucherous once-in-a-lifetime vacation. But when their beer-soaked and sexually charged trip goes sour, it’s rapper and drug and arms dealer Alien that comes to their rescue. And that’s when the nefarious story really kicks in as the world becomes much more rough and dark. With the tone of a haunted pop song, the film evokes something physical, leaving you in a trance that’s both erotic and dangerously chilling. It’s entertainment with a bullet, cinema with a bite of fantasy—it’s fizzing and bursting to the surface with color and entirely intoxicating. (available on iTunes)    

 

Mulholland Drive

The movie is hypnotic; we’re drawn along as if one thing leads to another–but nothing leads anywhere, and that’s even before the characters start to fracture and recombine like flesh caught in a kaleidoscope. "Mulholland Drive" isn’t like "Memento," where if you watch it closely enough, you can hope to explain the mystery. There is no explanation. There may not even be a mystery…There have been countless dream sequences in the movies, almost all of them conceived with Freudian literalism to show the characters having nightmares about the plot. "Mulholland Drive" is all dream. There is nothing that is intended to be a waking moment. Like real dreams, it does not explain, does not complete its sequences, lingers over what it finds fascinating, dismisses unpromising plotlines. If you want an explanation for the last half hour of the film, think of it as the dreamer rising slowly to consciousness, as threads from the dream fight for space with recent memories from real life, and with fragments of other dreams–old ones and those still in development…This is a movie to surrender yourself to. If you require logic, see something else. "Mulholland Drive" works directly on the emotions, like music. Individual scenes play well by themselves, as they do in dreams, but they don’t connect in a way that makes sense–again, like dreams. The way you know the movie is over is that it ends. And then you tell a friend, "I saw the weirdest movie last night." Just like you tell them you had the weirdest dream. (available on iTunes)    

 

The Place Beyond the Pines

Spanning fifteen years, The Place Beyond the Pines unfolds along three brooding story lines—the tale of a motorcycle stunt rider who begins robbing banks in a desperate attempt to prove he can provide for his child and the woman he loves, the story of an intelligent but eager rookie cop who goes after him, and how the consequences of their actions are passed down into the blood of their sons. But one of the most fascinating elements ofPines is how expansive it feels—emotionally and cinematically. By the last moments of the film, you find yourself completely satisfied, feeling as though you’ve truly engaged in the richness of a narrative and were able to be a voyeur into another lifetime. The Place Beyond the Pines penetrates deep into the woe of its characters as they wrestle with what plagues them internally and the inability to confront and change the world around them. Dealing with themes of generational impact, how lives mysteriously intertwine, and the way one moment can effect an entire legacy, Pines is an epic journey about fathers and sons that’s kinetic and full of life yet teeming with secrets that linger in the air like ghosts. It’s a haunted drama that draws you in slowly as the story unfurls piece of piece, taking you on a ride through Cianfrance’s moody and harrowing tale. (available on iTunes)    

 

Mud 

But not wanting to make a simple getaway film about a man on the run, Nichols thought about young boys finding Mud, and who those boys were. "A girl had broken up with me and I was feeling defeated and pained," he admits. "I started thinking, yeah, what if this kid’s going to get his heart broken and there’s this guy who always gets his heart broken, but for some reason always keeps coming back. All the sudden I had what ended up being the core of the story." And that core being love–first, unmerciful love. "A lot of the time we look down on that young love we had and think, oh wasn’t that cute or puppy love and all, but its kind of the fiercest love there is," he says. "You don’t have your hands up yet, which makes the fall so hard because you’re fully committed to it, you’re all in. And oh man, it hurts."…But what rings true with all the male characters in the film is inverting standard ideas of masculinity. Nichols takes the southern male mentality and exposes its "endearing" weakness. "I wanted to make a romantic film about the male point of view of love, and I don’t think that happens a lot," he says. He takes these hard men, whether it’s Mud, an outlaw, or Blankenship, a reclusive older man, and shows their vulnerability and their devotion to love. "They might be men who don’t feel comfortable sharing their feelings but they have all those thoughts, they have all those feelings, and we treat them like humans, like the real people that they are, and we don’t need to fit them into a stereotype of masculinity." (available on iTunes)    

The King of Marvin Gardens 

  One of the most downbeat movies of the time, it features Nicholson as the deeply depressed, anti-charismatic David Staebler, who earns a modest living telling miserable tales about his family in the early hours of the morning on a Philadelphia FM radio station. He’s lured at the height of winter to the once grand, now decaying New Jersey resort of Atlantic City by his estranged brother, Jason (Bruce Dern). This fast-talking, ever hopeful wheeler-dealer and con man is involved with gangsters in a dicey project to buy a Hawaiian island and turn it into a casino…The movie is a flawed masterpiece full of menace, surreal moments and obscure dialogues, with the city photographed in all its desolate, decaying beauty by László Kovácscorrect, who also shot Easy Rider andFive Easy Pieces. Probably the greatest sequence has the four main characters recreating the Miss America pageant in the desolate, deserted Convention Hall. Marvin Gardens (a misspelling by the game’s creator of Marven Gardens, a township south of Atlantic City) is a yellow property on the Monopoly board. The movie is best viewed alongside Louis Malle’s masterly Atlantic City, shot a decade later while the town was in the process of getting a multimillion-dollar facelift. (available on iTunes)    

Reality

With all the charisma and machismo of Fellini and sprinkled throughout a Bunuelian surreality, Italian director Matteo Garrone’s Reality is a bizarre and compelling character study of a man possessed by an elusive fantasy. As the follow-up to 2008’s Gomorrah, Garrone crafts a brightly colored satire of capitalism and celebrity obsession set in the hyper-real world of reality television—juxtaposed by the crumbling facade of Naples. Scored by the brilliant Alexandre Desplat,Reality tells the story of a Neopolitan fishmonger, Luciano, with an natural affinity for entertainment—his larger-than-life personality both charming and excessive. But when his family and neighbors urge him to audition for Grande Frattello—the Italian version of Big Brother—his life begins to spiral out of control. After his successful audition, Luciano eagerly awaits a call from producers, growing more and more intoxicated with the idea of fame and what being on the show could mean for himself and his legacy. He becomes increasingly more consumed by the possibility that his mundane life will be replaced, not only with glamour of celebrity, but with a dream-like sense of wonder and immortality. The upbeat and comedic tone that permeates the first half of the film begin to grow darker and more psychological as we see Luciano unravel into a delusional world of his own. (available on iTunes)    

 

The Artist is Present

Yes, this is life and this is truth. I’m just trying to choose the important things. I’m 65, so I think at least 10 or 15 years to establish something that can stay without me is important. My life is about the work. Suffering purifies you and focuses you and compliments you. Art history is full of suffering. Tell me any art made from happiness, I don’t know. And the movie has really done a good job because people are touched. In Germany we had Germans cry, that’s not easy to do! But I think it’s just honest. And I think that comes across through the film. Mike was with me for one year shooting all this material so I think it does a good job of showing to the public what performance means; it’s not just some hocus-pocus form of art  that nobody gives a shit about, it’s something else and it’s an important form of art and not always mainstream. For me it’s a contribution to performance art, so for the other young artists coming my way there can be some space….Now in the theatre piece, it’s everyone—the comical Marina and the vulnerable one and the one who is so wounded. It’s a piece about my life, and there are so many things I’m ashamed of and playing my life on stage every single day. Every day I cry to be ready [so] I can to go through this one more time. It’s so important to actually stage the most painful time of my life and give that to other artists, because it’s all we have. And just like a mirror, I want to be an example and everyone can project their own life into this. And the Artist is Present film is like that too. If you have a dream or aim anything is possible. (available on iTunes)    

Blithe Spirit

In fact, there has never been a film that captures the theatrical qualities of Coward at his peak, for the simple reason that live performance is a minimum requirement for fully bringing out those qualities. Coward’s great comedies do not hinge on plot, and their much-vaunted wit is mostly a matter of tone and rhythm. Their structures primarily create occasions for setting actors against one another on a stage; ideally, the audience watching a Coward play should feel that they have been granted entry to an exclusive party where even the nastiest quarrels and the most sullen insults become magically entertaining. The very title of Present Laughter—the exercise in farcical self-portraiture that preceded Blithe Spirit—suggests that necessary ingredient of physical presence. This is not to say that Lean’s film of Blithe Spirit is a failure but that Lean clearly recognized the limitations of Coward’s preliminary instruction: “Just photograph it, dear boy.”…Lean’s film becomes almost by default a supernatural fantasy in a way the play is not. Onstage, Elvira is very much there, even when Ruth cannot see her; in Lean’s editing, Elvira goes in and out of visibility, depending on point of view, automatically creating a multilayered sense of space. The séance scene is filmed as if it were a genuinely ominous affair, effectively enough that, for a moment, it becomes so. This has an interesting effect on our perception of Margaret Rutherford, as the medium Madame Arcati. Rutherford’s inspired performance is one of the great comic turns on-screen, as it apparently was onstage, but here she projects something that seems to go a bit beyond the part as written. (available on iTunes and Hulu)    

 

Brief Encounter

"Nothing happens" is hardly a motto for movies today. But at the end of the second world war, when cinemas were packed, desire on the screen was fabulously (and sometimes hysterically) inflamed by self-denial, shyness and censorship. It’s an open question, of course, but consider the possibility that movie romance, and its dream of desire, were stimulated by the various controls that blocked abandon. Those devices include our innocence. In 1945, there wasn’t a hint of irony or parody in the film’s pounding Rachmaninov score (the second piano concerto, played to the hilt by Eileen Joyce)…Today, the set-up begs for satire. But Brief Encounter has survived such threats, because it is so well made, because Laura’s voiceover narration is truly anguished and dreamy, because the music suckers all of us, and because Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard are perfect. I realise, "perfect" seems dangerously prim and old-hat, an ultimate proof of hopeless gentility. But that’s not fair. Howard could be a wild man – as we know from his later work – and you feel recklessness and revolution as a wind tugging at him. (available on iTunes)    

Match Point

One reason for the fascination of Woody Allen’s "Match Point" is that each and every character is rotten. This is a thriller not about good versus evil, but about various species of evil engaged in a struggle for survival of the fittest — or, as the movie makes clear, the luckiest. "I’d rather be lucky than good," Chris, the tennis pro from Ireland, tells us as the movie opens, and we see a tennis ball striking the net – it is pure luck which side it falls on. Chris’ own good fortune depends on just such a lucky toss of a coin…Let us talk instead in terms of the underlying philosophical issues. To what degree are we prepared to set aside our moral qualms in order to indulge in greed and selfishness? I have just finished re-reading The Wings of the Dove, by Henry James, in which a young man struggles heroically with just such a question. He is in love with a young woman he cannot afford to marry, and a rich young heiress is under the impression he is in love with her. The heiress is dying. Everyone advises him he would do her a great favor by marrying her, and after her death, inheriting her wealth, he could afford to marry the woman he loves. But isn’t this unethical? No one has such moral qualms in Allen’s film, not even sweet Chloe, who essentially has her daddy buy Chris for her. The key question facing the major players is: Greed, or lust? How tiresome to have to choose…Without saying why, let me say that fear also enters into the equation. In a moral universe, it would be joined by guilt, but not here. The fear is that in trying to satisfy both greed and lust, a character may have to lose both, which would be a great inconvenience. At one point this character sees a ghost, but this is not Hamlet’s father, crying for revenge; this ghost drops by to discuss loopholes in a "perfect crime." The movie is more about plot and moral vacancy than about characters, and so Allen uses type-casting to quickly establish the characters and set them to their tasks of seduction, deception, lying and worse. Meyers has a face that can express crafty desire, which is not pure lust but more like lust transformed by quick strategic calculations. Matthew Goode, as his rich friend, is clueless almost as an occupation. Emily Mortimer plays a character incapable of questioning her own happiness, no matter how miserable it should make her. Scarlett Johansson’s visiting American has been around the block a few times, but like all those poor American girls in Henry James, she is helpless when the Brits go to work on her. She has some good dialogue in the process. (available on iTunes)    

Alps

"Alps" is a film peculiar beyond all understanding, based on a premise that begs belief. It takes itself with agonizing seriousness, and although it has the form of a parable, I am at a loss to guess its meaning. Yet I was drawn hypnotically into the weirdness…"Alps" is the new film by the Greek director Giorgos Lanthimos, whose "Dogtooth" shook up Cannes in 2009. That was the film where control-freak parents contain their children within a walled garden and further isolate them from the world by teaching them the incorrect words for things. A Lanthimos film is like a test tube for life, in which the activity depends on what specific ingredients have been introduced. Although "Alps" is provocative and challenging, it is so completely self-contained that it has no particular emotional payoff. There is no greater world in which to evaluate its contents. When mourners are comforted by therapists who propose to represent the loved one, you’d think deep feelings would be stirred up. But "Alps" has the effect of a sterile exercise. (available on iTunes and Netflix)    

Cinema Paradiso

Tornatore’s movie is a reminder of the scenes in Truffaut’s "Day for Night," where the young boy steals a poster of "Citizen Kane." We understand that the power of the screen can compensate for a deprived life and that young Salvatore is not apprenticing himself to a projectionist, but to the movies. Once that idea has been established, the film begins to reach for its effects, and there is one scene in particular – a fire in the booth – that has the scent of desperation about it, as if Tornatore despaired of his real story and turned to melodrama. Yet anyone who loves movies is likely to love "Cinema Paradiso," and there is one scene where the projectionist finds that he can reflect the movie out of the window in his booth and out across the town square so that the images can float on a wall, there in the night above the heads of the people. I saw a similar thing happen one night in Venice in 1972 when they showed Chaplin’s "City Lights" in the Piazza San Marco to more than 10,000 people, and it was then I realized the same thing this movie argues: Yes, it is tragic that the big screen has been replaced by the little one. But the real shame is that the big screens did not grow even bigger, grow so vast they were finally on the same scale as the movies they were reflecting. (available on iTunes and Netflx)

Preemptively Anticipating the Long Career of ‘Mud’ & ‘Tree of Life’ Star Ty Sheridan

Jeff Nichols’ Mud was a fantastic film about the cycle of first love and masculine desire for protection, but what stood out for me the most was the incredible performance by newcomer Ty Sheridan. The small boy who we saw as the youngest of Jessica Chastain and Brad Pitt’s sons in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life appears in Mud a much more grown up version of the little guy we’d previously seen, not only holding his own amongst McConaughey and the rest of the adult cast but delivering one of the best and most endearing performances I’ve seen this year thus far.

And now, The Hollywood Reporter tells us that Sheridan is in talks to star in Kyle Wilamowski’s coming-of-age drama Grass Stains. No stranger to highly emotional films about the treacherous nature of love, Sheridan will take on the role of "a teen discovering his first love. When a prank goes awry and causes the death of his girlfriend’s older brother, the boy must balance his secret guilt with his feelings for the girl." Wilamowski’s film is set to shoot in North Carolina later this month but in the meantime, we’ll see Sheridan in David Gordon Green’s Nicolas Cage-led Prince Avalanche-follow-up Joe. I have a feeling this kid is going to go on to do some great things.

Jeff Nichols Explores the Cycle of First Love and Masculinity in His New Film ‘Mud’

When it comes to experiences that bind us together, there are few things more universal than heartbreak. Everyone remembers the first time it happened—the earth-shattering sadness and the way that painful fire burnt inside you for the very first time. You look back on that initial taste of love and remember the sweetness, the overwhelming, almost suffocating sensation that came from finally understanding what it truly means to need another human being. But in the natural progression of life, eventually that love ends or fades, and although it hurts like hell, you survive. Wounds mend, you meet someone else, and, in time, you’re able to start the cycle all over again. With his third film, writer and director Jeff Nichols explores this "cycle of first love," told through a fourteen-year-old boy experiencing his first heartbreak, inside the larger tale of a man stuck in first love’s loop—never having been able to move beyond his first love. "It’s kind of like Lolita in a less gross way," says Nichols, whose new film Mud may look one way on the surface, but is moved along by a powerful and emotional undercurrent.

As the follow-up to 2011’s psychological drama Take Shelter, Nichols’ Mud explores a similar rural American landscape, filled with ordinary people dealing with extreme circumstances, living normal lives until something creeps its way in and shatters their foundations. Written in the summer of 2008, Nichols finished the script for Mud alongside Take Shelter, but says he had been thinking of the former since college. "I always had Mud on my mind," says Nichols. "I was building towards Mud."
 
You can see what he means. Since his first feature, Shotgun Stories, Nichols has been slowly evolving on a larger scale. Mud feels like his most ambitious and fully-realized work yet, packing not only a wonderfully-crafted narrative but the emotion and heart that separates it from stereotypical southern tropes. When asked if his Arkansas upbringing made a large impact on him as a filmmaker, Nichols claims that "It defines who I am."  Setting his films in the worlds he grew up in, the worlds that his memories are steeped in, is just another way the talented director has differentiated his work.
 
"It was just real comfortable and really easy to close my eyes and write in that voice and in those places," he explains. "I didn’t have to do copious amounts of research, I could just imagine it." With that sense of imagination, Nichols tells the thrilling, adventurous, and emotional tale of a 14-year-old boy, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and his best friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) who happen upon a fugitive hiding out an an island in the middle of the Mississippi river near their home in Arkansas.
 
The boys meet the mysterious man named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) after finding out that he’s been living in an abandoned boat in a tree that they’ve claimed as their own. The boys agree to help out Mud and bring him food while he’s on the lam, hiding from both the police and the shady men who are after him for a crime he’s committed. But all the while, he’s waiting to be reunited and run away with the woman he’s been in love with since he was a child, the woman with nightingales tattooed on her hands, Juniper ( Reese Witherspoon). It’s that romantic sentiment and commitment to his woman that Ellis connects with and admires in Mud as his own mother and father contemplate divorce and the future of their family, creating a bond between the young boy and the outlaw. Living across the river from Ellis is the old and wise Tom Blankenship, played by the wonderful Sam Shepard in one of his best roles in recent memory.
 
After discovering a book of black-and-white photos of people living and working on the Arkansas river,  Nichols says he realized that there was "a world in my backyard that I don’t know about." This idea sparked his vision of a guy hanging out on an island in the middle of Mississippi. "Little Rock is split in two by the river," he explains. "Whenever you drive over the bridge you see this little island in the middle of the river, and I always fantasized about playing out on that island." Nichols ruminated on the topic for a while, before deciding that the story was simply too good not to pursue. "When I said it out loud—a guy hanging out on an island in the middle of the river–it just felt like a good idea, like a big classic American movie idea." 
 
But not wanting to make a simple getaway film about a man on the run, Nichols thought about young boys finding Mud, and who those boys were. "A girl had broken up with me and I was feeling defeated and pained," he admits. "I started thinking, yeah, what if this kid’s going to get his heart broken and there’s this guy who always gets his heart broken, but for some reason always keeps coming back. All the sudden I had what ended up being the core of the story." And that core being love–first, unmerciful love. "A lot of the time we look down on that young love we had and think, oh wasn’t that cute or puppy love and all, but its kind of the fiercest love there is," he says. "You don’t have your hands up yet, which makes the fall so hard because you’re fully committed to it, you’re all in. And oh man, it hurts."
 
Having written the character of Mud for Matthew McConaughey without ever having met him, the challenge was finding the right actor for the role of Ellis. " I went in to meet him and he was just the physical manifestation of my character," says Nichols of Tye Sheridan, who, in his role, gives one of the most endearing and fearless performances of the year so far. "He looked like him, he sounded like him, he was from east Texas, he hunted and fished, did everything that I needed this kid to do." Sheridan had recently played the youngest son in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, which turned out to be just the proper training for the young actor, who Nichols found out about through Jessica Chastain and his producer Sarah Green. "He’d been through this amazing experience of being on a Malick film," says Nichols. He’d had the experience of working with celebrities and getting to understand the mechanism of filmmaking and cameras. "He had just gone through this amazing improvisational bootcamp and came to me fully formed as a talent," he adds. "All I had to do was give him the script and get out of the way."
 
There’s a particular moment in the film in which Sheridan explodes on Mud. He runs into the scene bursting with emotion and delivers an incredibly well-acted and authentic moment that hits you straight in the gut—which elicited an audible gasp from the audience at Sunday’s premiere at MoMA. Nichols recalls showing up that day on set and asking Sheridan if he needed to talk about the upcoming scene. Sheridan replied "Give me a few minutes," and sat on a log for two to three. Then: "Bam!" Nichols snaps his fingers in repetition."Two, three takes, just like that. I was like, holy crap. McConaughey and I just looked at each other and were like, we’re gonna make it." 
 
But what rings true with all the male characters in the film is inverting standard ideas of masculinity. Nichols takes the southern male mentality and exposes its "endearing" weakness. "I wanted to make a romantic film about the male point of view of love, and I don’t think that happens a lot," he says. He takes these hard men, whether it’s Mud, an outlaw, or Blankenship, a reclusive older man, and shows their vulnerability and their devotion to love. "They might be men who don’t feel comfortable sharing their feelings but they have all those thoughts, they have all those feelings, and we treat them like humans, like the real people that they are, and we don’t need to fit them into a stereotype of masculinity."
 
The dynamic between men and women in the film feels akin to that of the works of Shepard himself—an almost antiquated and structured view of how one should be, with the intellect and insight to understand the confounding nature of love’s instability. As a huge admirer of Shepard himself, Nichols admits, "there were definitely days on set where I was like, I’m not worthy of being here." He also recalled "the greatest day ever" when he was sitting on the beach and Shepard, who had the day off, came over "just wanted to hang out." The two sat together on the beach eating lunch, talking about music and films and books. "I was like, this is the coolest thing that I’ve ever done in my life."
 
With its release this weekend, Nichols is finally able to sit back and reflect on the film that’s been living inside him for years. "Now that I’ve made Mud, I feel like I’m ready to move on to a second chapter," says Nichols. For the 34-year-old director, it may be the beginning of a long and exciting career. "I’ve had Mud with me so long as an idea, it feels like it’s the end of a chapter and the beginning of a new one. I just feel it."

Matthew McConaughey May Take the Lead in Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’

In the past few years Matthew McConaughey has proved that pithy romantic comedies are clearly not where his heart lies. With a string of roles in Magic Mike, Killer Joe, The Paperboy, and Jeff Nicholas’ upcoming Mud, the 43-year-old actor has finally come into his own. And his own being these rough and seedy southern men on a fringe of the law. But earlier this year, we had been seeing a more gaunt looking version of the handsome actor as he prepared to play the lead role in Jean-Marc Vallée’s AIDS drama Dallas Buyer’s Club. And now, it seems that he’s been tapped to star in one of the most anticipated movies of the next year, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises follow-up, Interstellar

Deadline reports that although "getting details on a Nolan project is more difficult than getting the line on the Pope selection process," McConaughey has been offered the lead role of Cooper in the film that was originally set in place by Steven Spielberg in 2006. But in January, Nolan signed on to write a script that merged the original idea about the existence of wormholes used for time travel written by his brother Jonah, with his own original idea. Nolan and Emma Thomas producing will be prodicing and, "the ambition is a film that will depict a heroic interstellar voyage to the farthest borders of our scientific understanding."

So although he’s been working in Hollywood for over two decades now, McConaughey’s career has had a rather odd trajectory. With Dazed and Confused and A Time to Kill followed by years of films like Failure to Launch andThe Wedding Planner, it took scaling down into independent cinema for his true talents and desires an actor to be unleashed. So it would be amazing to see this new McConaughey or this true McConaughey star in something as epic as a Christopher Nolan movie about time/space travel. I mean, I would gladly watch McConaughey in anything, so I’m game—how do you feel, MM?

But while we’re here, let’s look back on some choice McConaughey moments.

Matthew McConaughey Takes Center Stage in Jeff Nichols’s New Trailer for ‘Mud’

It took him almost an entire career of Wedding Planner(s) and Failure(s) to Launch, but Matthew McConaughey has finally found his place in cinema. The recent string of roles he has taken on make us wonder why he didn’t venture down this path in the first place? Perhaps it was an evovling sense of purpose as an actor or something that’s come with age, but in the last year he’s really seemed to hit his stride. With last year’s Killer Joe, The Paperboy, and even Magic Mike, McConaughey has come into his own—his own being a seedy, somewhat disturbed, southern (not so) gentleman on the fringe of the law. And with Jeff Nichols’s Mud, the follow-up to 2011’s paranoia-inducing Take Shelter, it appears McMonaughey is proving again that he’s not someone to take lightly. 

Mud tells the story of a two teenage boys who encounter a mysterious fugitive and form a pat to help him evade the bounty hunters on his trailer and to reunite him with his true love. Take Shelter was well-recieved by critics, garnering Nichols the attention he deserved from a film that was neither pure drama nor thriller, but a psychological study of a descent into madness that played on a mix of subtly and sheer power from its leading man, Michael Shannon—who also makes an appearance in Mud. In their Cannes review, The Film Stage claimed that Mud, "imperfect as it may be…marks a step forward for Nichols as a filmmaker capable of making big entertainment that retains some intelligence and a palpable message as well.” And if you aren’t sold already, Sam Shepard is also in the film and, let’s face it, that’s reason enough.

Check out the trailer below:

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