2013 in Review: The Top Ten Films of the Year

12 Years a Slave
It seemed like only yesterday that I was raving about what a good year it was for movies. 2013 might not have been as strong for cinema overall as 2012 was, but there was nevertheless plenty of good stuff to see at the movies this year. It was, however, a most unusual year for the movies. 2013 was like a trip back in time as a handful of films did away with colour and told stories in good old fashioned black and white: Frances Ha, Nebraska, Blancanieves, and Much Ado About Nothing are throwbacks to days of pioneer filmmaking, yet one could rightly argue that there as much innovation going on now as there was fifty years ago. On the other hand, Gravity shot moviegoers to the future of cinema by using the technical scope of the frame to its fullest dimension. The only other major studio film of 2013 that was worth raving about, The Wolf of Wall Street, gave perhaps the most contemporary pulse of the times by showing how a bold social commentary remains a more effective device than 3-D glasses. Welcome back to 2-D, Marty.


'Cocaine and Hookers'

The Wolf of Wall Street
(USA, 179 min.)
Dir. Martin Scorsese, Writ. Terence Winter
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Rob Reiner, Kyle Chandler, Matthew McConaughey, Cristin Milioti, Jean Dujardin
The Wolf of Wall Street thrusts Martin Scorsese balls deep into the squealing hog of American capitalism. Scorsese doesn’t paint a pretty picture of the land of the free and wealthy, but this adaptation of Jordan Belfort’s riotously entertaining memoir is a gloriously debauched satire. Belfort is brought to life by Leonardo DiCaprio, who gives one of his better performances as the sly stockbroker steals from the rich and throws sexier parties than Jay Gatsby ever dreamed of. The Belfort of Scorsese’s film grabs the green light by the balls and makes the American Dream look like a Greek Tragedy. (Any film that begins with its protagonist ingesting cocaine from a prostitute’s vagina is bound to be a complete gong show.) The film should by all regards overdose on all of its sinful behaviour, yet Scorsese and company mix a cocktail that is so bat-shit crazy that it does the trick and stays remarkably lucid for all 179 minutes of its rambunctious running time.


Oscar Predictions: Round 4 - Boxing Week Match-ups

12 Years a Slave
Oscar ballots are in the mail today! It’s been a wild season so far, and we can only expect it to get even weirder as the most crucial window opens and films fight for nominations. Quite a few intense match-ups happened before Boxing Day, so here’s a look at how a few key fights seem to be going down before we update the predictions:


2013 in Review: The Best Performances of the Year

August: Osage County
2013 has been a good year for movies, but it’s been an even greater year for performances. Actor after actor offered some of the best work of his or her filmographies. Several A-listers and top stars arguably gave the finest work of their careers this year: Robert Redford, Cate Blanchett, Matthew McConaughey and others listed below deserve every accolade they get.


Contest: Win Passes to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum!

We have some free tickets to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum up for grabs, courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada, if you’re looking for some fun stuff to do with friends and/or family over the holidays. (Passes offer free admission for “up to 2 adults and 3 children.”) All you have to do to enter is watch the space-themed short below and answer the following question:


2013 in Review: The Best Canadian Films of the Year

2012 was a tough act to follow for Canadian films. Stories We Tell, Rebelle, Midnight’s Children, and Cosmopolis offered Can Con strong enough to make a case for quotas at the movie theatres. There were so many goodies. If Canada had a set limit for which movie theatres had to support their local artists, then 2013 would have introduced audiences to many impressive filmmakers.

This year might have been a quietly commendable year for Canadian movies. The biggest names in Canadian film largely made films outside the national borders: Denis Villeneuve with Prisoners, Atom Egoyan with Devil’s Knot, and Jean-Marc Vallée with Dallas Buyers Club, for example. (And the bulk of attention garnered to Canadian cinema this year probably—and rightfully—stemmed from the successful release of Stories We Tell in the USA.) This year therefore allowed Canadian cinema to shine a light on unique talents and the up-and-coming filmmakers. Films made an impression with their distinct voice and style, rather than with their big names. It was an especially good year for documentary, too, so the roaring success of Stories We Tell might open the door for more doc discoveries on the international scene for some of these great films.

My Picks for the Top Ten Canadian Films of 2013:


Some Hustle to Escape

American Hustle
(USA, 138 min.)
Dir. David O. Russell, Writ. David O. Russell, Eric Singer
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Robert De Niro.
The hair, the clothes, the cleavage, the cast, the con! David O. Russell’s American Hustle has finally landed and it’s as wild a ride as one could have hoped. The Silver Linings Playbook director offers another solid ensemble piece that is easily one of the most enjoyable and entertaining films of the year.


Alexander Payne's America

(USA, 115 min.)
Dir. Alexander Payne, Writ. Bob Nelson
Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach.
Nebraska is another fine slice of Americana from Alexander Payne. The director of The Descendants, Sideways, and About Schmidt returns with this finely-tuned character study of working-class America. Nebraska, Payne’s first feature for which he is not credited as a writer (that credit goes to first time feature film writer Bob Nelson), offers another of the director’s uncontrived and down-to-earth ensemble pieces. It’s as funny and as heartfelt as anything Payne has ever done.


'12 Years a Slave' Leads Online Film Critics Society Awards

The Online Film Critics Society announced the winners for their 17th annual awards today. The OFCS, of which I’m a member, have the top honour to Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, which was the biggest winner overall with five awards. Gravity came second with four honours including Best Director for Alfonso Cuarón and a special award for Sound Design and Visual Effects. The late Roger Ebert was also given a special award for inspiring so many members of the OFCS. The group also released a list of the Top Ten Films Without a U.S. Release.

The full list of winners is as follows

The Folksmen

Inside Llewyn Davis
(USA, 105 min.)
Written and directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, Garrett Hedlund, John Goodman.
Oscar Isaac in Joel and Ethan Coen’s' Inside Llewyn Davis.
Photo: Alison Rosa ©2012 Long Strange Trip LLC

“Ah, if you make a living out of it, more power to you,” says the boorish Roland (played by a riotously larger than life John Goodman) when Llewyn Davis (a revelatory Oscar Isaac) explains his profession to be that of a folk singer. Ornery folks like Roland might assume there isn’t much money to be had in composing eclectic and arty ballads that have something to say, but the beautiful music of Inside Llewyn Davis proves that business is a boomin’ in the folk scene. Inside Llewyn Davis is the latest effort from the brotherly filmmaking team of Joel Coen and Ethan Coen and it’s easily one of their best. And they made Fargo and No Country for Old Men. A man making a living with folk music tells stories of common Americans with cadence and candour, and the Coens have done exactly that. Inside Llewyn Davis is true folk.


2013 in Review: The Worst Films of the Year

It’s that time of year again where Cinemablographer looks back on the year in movies. It’s better to get the bad news over and done with so we can concentrate on the good stuff. 2013 was a good year for movies, but it wasn’t a very good year for the studios. While independents offered new and exciting films, the big players mostly churned out remakes, sequels, and rehashes. A lot of them seemed so tired and familiar that I just couldn’t be bothered to see them. Why see another Wolverine movie when the last one was so forgettable? Part 1 of The Hobbit was three hours of my life that I’ll never get back, so why throw away three more on Part 2? Do I really need to endure Carrie and the excruciating duck face of Chloë Moretz just to make a predictable “They’re all gonna laugh at you!” joke? I’ve always been a believer that it’s more worth the time of a movie reviewer to write about what makes a film great, rather than what makes a film worth skipping, so I avoided many of the big stinkers. (And I’ll admit that I didn’t think that critically reviled movies like The Lone Ranger and Now You See Me were anywhere as bad as people said they were.) Nevertheless, 2013 dropped quite a few stink bombs to add a nasty whiff to film festivals and art house theatres. Here are the ten films that had me choking on buttery popcorn and praying for the end credits.

The Worst Films of 2013:

Stephen Frears should thank his lucky stars for Philomena. I was all but ready to write off Mr. Frears after the unspeakably bad Lay the Favourite offered frame upon frame of dead energy for ninety-odd minutes. Not an inch of this film works and the cast that includes Bruce Willis and Catherine-Zeta Jones hit some of the lowest points of their career as they joined Frears on autopilot to collect a paycheck. Star Rebecca Hall should be the most thankful of all that Lay the Favourite was overlooked almost entirely, for her career could have gone the way of Elizabeth Berkeley, as Lay the Favourite inadvertently realizes Showgirls' prophecy that we are all whores.


'In the Most Delightful Way!'

Saving Mr. Banks
(USA/UK, 125 min.)
Dir. John Lee Hancock, Writ. Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith
Starring: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Annie Rose Buckley, Ruth Wilson, Paul Giamatti.
Fidelity might be the most well-trodden angle to approaching adaptation, but it’s the most consistently intriguing way to look at the journeys books take as they become films. Fidelity can be one of the most salacious approaches, too, thanks to the risqué connotation of the word. Writers can feel like cuckolds when moviemakers change their precious works, but such protests might be in vain. An author might not have any right to be unhappy when a screenwriter plays fast and loose with a book because, as André Bazin once said, “he sold it, and thus is guilty of an act of prostitution that deprives him of many of his privileges as the creator of the work.”


World Exchange Cinema Update: Bad News?

Enjoy the whales on your last trip up the escalator at the World Exchange cinema

There's been a disappointing development in the ongoing campaign to save the movie theatre at the World Exchange Plaza in Ottawa. The theatre, which is currently the last remaining multiplex in downtown Ottawa, has been a point of discussion ever since Empire Theatres decided to pull out of the movie business and left the theatre in limbo. Landmark Cinemas took over the theatre (as they did the Empire 24 in Kanata) and expressed interest in continuing their business at the World Exchange despite the fact that Empire’s lease was up at the end of the year and that the landlord made it pretty clear that a movie theatre wasn’t the WE’s ideal partner. New developments suggest that the theatre will indeed close at the end of the year.

The news comes from Marybeth in the Facebook group that was started in support of a theatre at the World Exchange and has been running a fine campaign to rally public support:

Hi folks. Just wanted to let you know that I have been informed that despite effort from both Landmark Cinemas and the landlord for the World Exchange Plaza, the parties are "unable to reach a mutually acceptable lease arrangement"… Given the time that has passed, this is not too surprising. The landlord will continue to look for a new tenant (which could include a theatre, though it is unlikely).


Golden Globe Nominations

Amy Adams in American Hustle
I guess Captain Phillipps got a boost it needed, but The Butler isn't as strong as it was yesterday, as the film was shut out entirely. Even Oprah!!! That's a surprise. She was hosed. This Oscar season will be very interesting/strange if even Oprah isn't safe for that performance.

But bad surprises also mean for good surprises, since an out for an Oprah meant an in for Sally Hawkins, who really deserves some recognition for Blue Jasmine. (And I can't really complain, since Sally would be on the spot above Oprah on my ballot.) Other good nods include Greta Gerwig for Frances Ha, Kate Winslet in Labor Day (yay!) and Robert Redford for All is Lost (back in the game after the SAG snub). 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle lead the pack with 7 nominations each. These two films offer the only overlap with the SAG prize for Best Ensemble, as August: Osage County, Dallas Buyers Club, and The Butler all missed out on the top prize with the Globes. Throw in Gravity (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney never really had much of a chance for Best Ensemble) and maybe The Wolf of Wall Street, and you probably have your top four.

The nominees are:

Best Picture - Drama:



Reviews: 'Frozen', 'Get a Horse!', 'Drug War', 'Despicable Me 2'

(USA, 108 min.)
Dir. Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee; Writ. Jennifer Lee, story: Jennifer Lee, Christ Buck, Shane Morris
Starring: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana
Frozen is a return to form for Disney animation. It’s been a while since the magical kingdom of the little black mouse produced an animated tale that harkens back to the pre-Pixar days. Frozen still showcases computer animation in all its three-dimensional glory, but this wintery princess musical is old school Disney at its finest. Frozen is the Beauty and the Beast for this generation of moviegoers.

SAG Nominations

August: Osage County
Film Nominations for the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which were announced via live stream. 12 Years a Slave leads followed by August: Osage County, Dallas Buyers Club and Lee Daniels The Butler.


Oustanding Ensemble Cast:


Brothers in Arms

Lone Survivor
(USA, 123 min.)
Written and directed by Peter Berg
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster
Taylor Kitsch as Mike Murphy and Mark Wahlberg as Marcus Luttrell in Lone Survivor
Based on the failed mission “Operation Red Wings” which tasked four members of SEAL Team 10 on June 28, 2005 to kill Taliban leader Ahmad Shah, Lone Survivor is an under-the-radar drama that could take audiences by surprise when it opens in January. Awards prospects might not be the in the sights of this late-in-the-game player, yet Lone Survivor should provide solid drama and inspiration for those looking to avoid both art-house award season fare and the annual glut of “January releases”. This true-life story is a compelling and inspiring film, and a sturdy effort from writer/director Peter Berg (Battleship, Friday Night Lights).

Contest: Win Tickets to 'August: Osage County' in Ottawa, Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Halifax! (Contest Closed)

If you’ve been reading the pages of this here blog, you’ll know that Cinemablographer.com is a pretty big fan of the incomparable Meryl Streep. (And if you’re a new reader, welcome!) Meryl has been earning rave reviews for her tour-de-force performance in the upcoming August: Osage County ever since the film premiered at TIFF this fall.(You can read Cinemablographer’s review for the film here.) Streep headlines a family of acting royalty in her role as Violet Weston, the drug-addled, cancer-ridden, and acid-tongued matriarch of a Southern family. Streep’s onscreen family is played by Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Sam Shepard, and Misty Upham in what is surely the best ensemble cast you’ll see this year.


'12 Years a Slave' Leads Online Film Critics Society Nominations

The Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), of which I am a member, announced the nominations today for its 17th annual awards honouring the best in film. 12 Years a Slave leads the pack with eight nominations, while Her and Inside Llewyn Davis have six noms apiece. The winners will be announced Monday, December 16th.

Best Picture
12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Before Midnight
Blue Is the Warmest Color
Drug War
Inside Llewyn Davis
Short Term 12
The Wind Rises

Oscars: Round 3 - Golden Globe and SAG Predictions

The Wolf of Wall Street
Well, it’s been a while since we last checked in on the awards race (sorry), so there’s lots of catching up to do. It seemed like there wasn’t much to report on for a while… and then American Hustle and Wolf of Wall Street happened. Both films are earning good buzz, even though Wolf is still under embargo, and are popping up in the early critics’ prizes. (I guess my hunch that Wolf of Wall Street would have mostly commercial prospects were silly.) Hustle won the NewYork Critics prizes for Film, Screenplay, and Supporting Actress Jennifer Lawrence, who seems to be getting “Best in Show” notices across the board from critics praising the ensemble cast. Wolf, on the other hand, has popped up in runner-up spots and on a few top ten lists so far. This week should be very interesting, since both the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild announce their nominees.


Pittsburgh-Style 'Furnace' is both Overcooked and Undercooked

Out of the Furnace
(USA, 116 min.)
Dir. Scott Cooper, Writ. Brad Ingelsby, Scott Cooper
Starring: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Zoe Saldana, Sam Shepard, Willem Dafoe Forest Whitaker.
What a disappointment. Scott Cooper follows his terrific 2009 debut Crazy Heart, which won two well-deserved Oscars for Best Actor (Jeff Bridges) and Best Song, with the well-intentioned actors’ showpiece Out of the Furnace. The only problem is that there doesn’t seem to be much point to the film besides letting some talented actors let loose. Yes, Out of the Furnace is an intense drama full of YELLING and ACTING, but filmgoers looking for fine character-driven drama in the vein of Crazy Heart best look elsewhere.


Contest: Win Tickets to 'American Hustle'! (Contest closed)

Some hustle for respect. Some hustle for love. Others hustle for truth. But we all hustle to survive.

We also hustle for free tickets. 

Win tickets to the Ottawa sneak peek of American Hustle, the new film from director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter) starring Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Amy Adams, and Jennifer Lawrence! (Click below for details.)

'Mandela' a Fine and Fitting Tribute

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
(UK/South Africa, 139 min.)
Dir. Justin Chadwick, Writ. William Nicholson
Starring: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris
Thursday night’s Ottawa sneak peek of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom was preceded by a solemn moment of silence. It was ironic bit of timing to see a biopic of an incomparable man on the day of his death. However, it also seemed wholly fitting to let the show go on, as those attending Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom had a fine opportunity to learn about and reflect upon the legacy of former South African President Nelson Mandela. One suspects that Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom might have yielded an altogether different film experience had it screened on Wednesday, but this dramatization of Mandela’s life offers a fine and fitting tribute to one of the greatest and most revolutionary men to ever walk this earth.

'Eat the Fish, Bitch!'

We have the "Eat the fish, bitch!" scene that had audiences roaring at TIFF this year. (Review here.)
Watch Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts in all the angry, plate-smashing glory of this new clip from August: Osage County. (via Simply Streep)

 Catfish is always on the menu at my family's annual "fish dinner" at Christmas. Stop by for some catfish Meryl!

The Mad Prophet of the Movie House

Mourning has Broken
(Canada, 76 min.)
Written and directed by Brett Butler and Jason Butler
Starring: Robert Nolan
It starts like any other day for the unnamed husband, played by Robert Nolan, in the Canadian indie darling Mourning has Broken. He wakes up and feeds the cat, Mignon (an adorable scene-stealer), while his wife continues to sleep. It seems like the start of a good day as the man prepares a fancy steak for the hungry kitty, cooking it in butter and herbs like his grandma taught him, and creating an air of joie de vivre by chatting to his feline friend in Julia Child-ish faux-French flair.


'Catching Fire' Beats the Odds

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
(USA, 146 min.)
Dir. Francis Lawrence, Writ. Simon Beaufoy, Michael Arndt
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone.
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson)
in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Photo credit: Murray Close

The odds weren’t in the favour of Catching Fire, but the second installment in the Hunger Game franchise is on par with the original film. The Hunger Games has even more street cred this time around now that Katniss (aka the consistently amazing Jennifer Lawrence) is an Oscar winner and is joined by some equally talented newcomers to the franchise like Jeffery Wright, Amanda Plummer, Jena Malone, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The added pedigree (of which the franchise already had plenty) shows how this adaptation of the Suzanne Collins trilogy is in a league above most other teen lit fare. Catching Fire is, above all, solid and breathless entertainment, but it’s also a smart allegory with its finger on the pulse of contemporary culture. Despite having to meet the very high critical and commercial expectations set by the first film, Catching Fire holds its own.

It's Out There: TIFF Picks Canada's Top Ten of 2013

Rhymes for Young Ghouls
It’s that time of year when groups and critics are compiling their year-end lists. The Toronto International Film Festival revealed Canada’s Top Ten features and shorts today, and they’re a worthy batch of films to represent the year in Canadian film. There are some expected titles, like Canada’s Oscar pick (and my pick for the best Canadian film this year) Gabrielle, and some pleasant surprises (including a film I was rooting for) with Rhymes for Young Ghouls. Rhymes for Young Ghouls is an especially commendable choice in the Top Ten: not only is it one of the best first features of the year, but it dramatizes a dark chapter of Canadian history in a distinct and audacious voice that this country has never seen. Rhymes also stand as the one film in the line-up to represent what a significant year 2013 was for films both by and about Indigenous Canadians. All in all, it’s a strong and diverse line-up.


Contest: Win Tickets to 'Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom' (Contest Closed)

One of the most inspiring true stories hitting the big screen this holiday season is the upcoming biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Idris Elba stars as Nelson Mandela in this story about the South African President’s extraordinary journey to becoming the leader of a once segregated nation. The film had an enthusiastic premier at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this year and is sure to touch audiences when it lands in theatres later this month.

Oscar's Documentary Shortlist

Awards Daily reports the shortlist for the Oscar race for Best Documentary Feature. Stories We Tell is in the running, which means that Sarah Polley is having a very good day after scooping the Best Non-Fiction Film prize from the New York Film Critics Circle earlier today. Other expected frontrunners still in the race are The Act of Killing (which, unfortunately, I haven’t seen nor been able to get my hands on a copy…), 20 Feet from Stardom, and Blackfish. The documentary shortlist is usually one of upsets and controversies, and has traditionally been the place where acclaimed favourites come to die, but recent revamps in screening and voting practices are bringing improvement. There’s no significant omission in this list. I might have liked to have seen Muscle Shoals or Blood Brother and (especially) The Ghosts in Our Machine, but it’s hard to argue with the choices on the list. (Although Pussy Riot is a somewhat dubious choice since it’s a crudely shot piece of reportage without much penetrating analysis.) The only omission that really surprises me is Let the Fire Burn, since it's blood-boiling Oscar fodder... but its use of archival footage is nothing in the league of the formal play of truth and storytelling going in Stories We Tell. Best of luck to the selected docs!

The shortlist is as follows, with links to reviews:


Capsule Reviews: 'A Place at the Table', 'Kiss of the Damned', 'Monsters University'

More reports from the screener pile:

A Place at the Table
(USA, 84 min.)
Dir. Kristi Jacobson & Lori Silverbush
Jeff Bridges in A Place at the Table, a Magnolia Pictures release.
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

The people (re: Executive Producers) who brought you the Oscar-nominated documentary Food, Inc. have put America’s fraught diet on the menu once again, but it’s disappointing to report that they’re serving a microwaved meal. The new doc explores the growing percentage of America’s population that is going hungrier day by day. If Food, Inc. offers a scathing and thoroughly objective deconstruction of the unappetizing fact that it is cheaper to eat poorly than it is to eat healthy in America, then A Place at the Table conveys a similar point only without the flavour that had the taste buds of doc fans tingling on all sides of the tongue.


EUFF Review: 'God Loves Caviar'

God Loves Caviar (O Theos agapaei to haviari)
(Greece/Russia, 101 min.)
Dir. Yannis Smaragdis, Writ. Yannis Smaragdis, Panagiotis Pashidis, Jackie Pavlenko, Vladimir Valutskiy
Starring: Sebastian Koch, Evgeniy Stychkin, John Cleese, Catherine Deneuve
It was another packed night at the European Union Film Festival on Saturday for the Ottawa premiere of Greece’s God Loves Caviar. The film ranks as one of the more high-profile projects at the festival, since this historical picture is an epic international co-production with some big name talents. Stars like John Cleese and Catherine Deneuve are sure to help draw attention to this hit offering of Greek cinema, and the large scale God Loves Caviar is a worthy commercial pic to help advance the national cinema alongside art house hits like Dogtooth.