2013 Films I’ve Already Seen

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We’re about a week into 2013 and I’ve already seen 17 films due to be released this year though I saw most of them at festivals last year like Sundance, TIFF and NYFF. I’m not a maniac.

Antiviral (Brandon Cronenberg), At Any Price (Ramin Bahrani), Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach), Ginger & Rosa (Sally Potter), Girl Most Likely (Shari Springer Bergman & Robert Pulcini), A Glimpse Inside The Mind Of Charles Swan III (Roman Coppola), The Iceman (Ariel Vromen), Like Someone In Love (Abbas Kiarostami), Much Ado About Nothing (Joss Whedon), No (Pablo Larrain), Passion (Brian DePalma), The Place Beyond The Pines (Derek Cianfrance), Sightseers (Ben Wheatley), Simon Killer (Antonio Campos), Something In The Air (Oliver Assayas), Thanks For Sharing (Stuart Blumberg), To The Wonder (Terrence Malick).

2012 Films (So Far This Year)

July means that we’re officially halfway through the year. I’ve seen 52 films in the theatre which includes many at Sundance and SXSW of which most of this list is comprised. Like last year at this time, I still haven’t seen anything I would consider an “A” film yet but I have seen some very good films that will likely stick around for my end of year list. So here are the very best films I’ve seen this year so far (click for full reviews)…

  1. The Raid: Redemption
  2. Shut Up And Play The Hits
  3. Nobody Walks
  4. Smashed
  5. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  6. Magic Mike
  7. Simon Killer
  8. Chronicle
  9. Cabin In The Woods
  10. Sleepwalk With Me 

Notable: The Avengers, Wanderlust, Compliance, Sound Of My Voice, Safety Not Guaranteed

My Sundance ‘12 Wrap-Up

For the second year I attended the Sundance Film Festival, packing 12 films into 4 very full days (+1 after the fact). With hundreds of films playing I made a decision to stick mostly to the U.S. Dramatic category (since that’s where most of last year's breakouts came from (“Like Crazy,” “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “Take Shelter”) with a few Premieres thrown in. All in all, I think I did pretty well, between my press pass and the @DorDotson method I was able to see everything I had the energy to show up for. I had a great and exhausting time, caught many of the fest’s most buzzed about films and got the chance to interview a few of the actors/filmmakers behind those efforts. Here, in descending order are my favorites from Sundance 2012.

1. Nobody Walks (dir: Ry Russo-Young) Peter (John Krasinski) and Julie (Rosemary DeWitt) are a Silverlake couple whose marriage is thrown into doubt by the arrival of 23 year old NY artist Martine (Olivia Thirlby). Ry Russo-Young directs this unexpectedly sensual, comic drama that takes a surprisingly mature view of relationships with a sharp script (co-written by Lena Dunham) and pulsing electronic score by Fall On Your Sword. Read My Full Review

2. Smashed (dir: James Ponsoldt) Heartbreaking and oddly hilarious portrait of alcoholism starring Mary-Elizabeth Winstead (in a career-changing performance) and Aaron Paul as a hard-partying married couple. It may sound like an afterschool special but it’s never preachy and perfectly played by an ensemble cast including Nick Offerman (yes, Ron Swanson), Megan Mullalley and Octavia Spencer. Read My Full Review

3. Beasts of the Southern Wild (dir: Benh Zietlin) The most acclaimed of the festival, the story features a 6 year old girl named Hushpuppy (an outstanding Quvenzhané Wallis) who lives in a post-apocalyptic wasteland called The Bathtub on the wrong side of the levee in New Orleans. Light on plotting but heavy on feeling, Benh Zeitlin’s impressive debut is the intersection between Terry Gilliam and Terry Malick. And the score made me cry. Read My Full Review

4. Simon Killer (dir: Antonio Campos) The latest from the Borderline films (“Martha Marcy May Marlene”) crew was one of the most divisive films of the fest. Simon (Brady Corbet) is a college grad who escapes to Paris after a breakup with his longtime girlfriend and while there begins a relationship with a prostitute named Victoria (Mati Diop). Featuring a great indie-dance soundtrack, it starts a little slow but blossoms into an engrossing (but dark) character study. Read My Full Review

5. Safety Not Guaranteed (dir: Colin Trevorrow) Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass and Jake M. Johnson star in this film treatment of the infamous classified ad“WANTED: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.” Hilarious and unexpectedly sweet, of all the films I saw at Sundance this year, this was the one with the most commercial potential. Read My Full Review

6. Save The Date (dir: Michael Mohan) Smarter-than-your-average rom-com starring an indie dream team of Lizzy Caplan (“Party Down”), Alison Brie (“Community”), Martin Starr (“Freaks & Geeks”) and Mark Webber (“Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”). Featuring strong performances by Caplan and Brie as sisters, Light without being completely insubstantial, this is what more romantic comedies should aspire to be. Read My Full Review

7. Bachelorette (dir: Leslye Headland) Produced by Will Ferrell & Adam McKay’s Gary Sanchez Productions, Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan and Isla Fisher star as a trio of bridesmaids behaving badly during a coke and booze filled bachelorette party in this dark comedy. While the synopsis might read like “Bridesmaids” revisited, it’s a much darker film that even makes “The Hangover” trio look kinda like pussies. Read My Full Review

8. Liberal Arts (dir: Josh Radnor) Radnor (“How I Met Your Mother”) writes, directs and stars in his sophomore feature about a 35 year old college admissions counselor (Radnor) who takes a trip to visit his old alma mater only to fall for a 19 year old student (“Martha Marcy May Marlene” star Elizabeth Olsen). He attempts to keep their relationship platonic as he struggles with what it is to be a grown-up in this crowd pleasing comedy. Read My Full Review

9. Hello, I Must Be Going (dir: Todd Louiso) Amy Minsky (Melanie Lynskey) is recently divorced 35 year old who moves back in with her parents so she can put her life back together but finds herself reverting back into her teenaged self. Such a great vehicle for perennial supporting player Lynskey to get her role in the spotlight, she makes you want to overlook some of the films other flaws. Read My Full Review

10. For Ellen (dir: So Yong Kim) Paul Dano (“Little Miss Sunshine”) plays Joby, the struggling frontman of a hard rock band about to lose custody of his young daughter Ellen. Featuring finely tuned performances - including a supporting turn from an unrecognizable Jon Heder - and strangely funny moments, the film nonetheless fails to get into gear. Read My Full Review

11. Celeste & Jesse Forever (dir: Lee Toland Krieger) Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg star as Celeste and Jesse, inseparable former high school sweethearts now in their 30’s who have decided to get divorced. With a starry ensemble including Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts and Ari Graynor, this is a nonetheless disappointing effort from co-writer/star, (the extremely likable) Rashida Jones. Read My Full Review

12. Robot and Frank (dir: Jake Schreier) Set in the near future, Frank Langella stars as Frank a retired jewel thief living out his days in his upstate NY cottage whose son buys him a caretaker robot called simply, Robot (voiced by Peter Saarsgard). Initially resistant to this strange technology, Frank decides to stage a heist with Robot’s help. Liv Tyler and James Marsden co-star in this high concept, low key, heist/buddy film. Read My Full Review

13. The Comedy (dir: Rick Alverson) A supposed satire of aging hipsters starring Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim and LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy. A series of loosely connected skits featuring Heidecker as a trust fund kid now nearing his 40’s seemingly improvising non sequiturs through each scene. Only intermittently funny, the film was supposed to be a skewering the Williamsburg overgrown hipsters it’s depicting. Read My Full Review

Sundance ‘12: Simon Killer review

One of the most divisive films at Sundance this year was undoubtedly “Simon Killer,” the latest from the Borderline films crew responsible for last year’s breakout “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” ‘Martha’ producer Antonio Campos steps back into the writer/director’s chair (for the second time after 2008’s “Afterschool”) while ‘Martha’ writer/director Sean Durkin takes the producer role this time. But unlike their surprise hit last year, this film arrives with the weight of expectations. While it starts a little slow - I found the opening scene to have a student film-ish quality to it - it eventually blossoms into an engrossing character study. Simon (Brady Corbet) is a college grad who escapes to Paris after a traumatic breakup with his longtime girlfriend. When he arrives he checks off the obligatory tourist destinations off his to-do list but quickly finds himself out looking for a connection. He tries to make small talk with some attractive French girls but his French isn’t great and his confidence shaky, so before too long he ends up being lured into a brothel in the Red Light District. While there he meets and eventually begins a relationship with a prostitute named Victoria (Mati Diop).

Wandering around Paris, hanging out with a prostitute, listening to his iPod, the film seduces you into spending time with Simon before things start to turn ugly. Much of the film is shot from behind Simon as he walks the streets of Paris, putting you inside the characters head and in a stroke of genius the blaring soundtrack - which features Spectral Display and in an extended sequence, LCD Soundsystem’s “Dance Yrself Clean” - is largely coming from Simon’s iPod. (Midway through a sequence, he changes the song.) The more we find out about Simon that we don’t like, the more the audience starts to turn on the movie (and indeed there were 20+ walkouts during the press screening). Simon reveals himself to be a manipulative, weak and sometimes despicable character in way over his head but by that point I was already hooked. Whether I just preferred spending time in Paris to a rural farm & summer home or a proactive central character, I actually preferred this to “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” One of my favorite films of the festival, IFC has picked the film up for distribution so it will be interesting to see how it plays outside the confines of Park City.