You’ll find nothing extraordinary here; you’ll find no surprises or conflicts that are more than skin-deep. You’ll find serviceable, occasionally community-theatre-like performances*, a thoughtful yet superficial biopic treatment that neither discourages discourse nor provokes it.
But what you will find is a rather perfect movie to bring two** of your sons to so that they can learn something rather simple and meaningful about the world, and the sport they love.
* 2013 Best Performance by Outrageously Furry Eyebrows: Harrison Ford.
** if you’ve been paying attention, you may remember that I have three sons. My oldest 1) was performing in a choral concert when the rest of us went to the movies and - more importantly - 2) could not possibly be dragged to a movie about baseball.
My 2013 Movies - Iron Man (2008, on a Blu-ray loaner from a friend)
I’m pretty sure I only saw this once when it was in the multiplexes, and then once more with one of my sons when it came out on DVD. Then a friend loaned me his Blu-ray recently and I decided to watch it again with one of my other sons who hadn’t seen it originally.
(of course, I’d also mention the thousand or so bits and pieces of it that I’ve rewatched, usually while loading the dishwasher or clipping fingernails, in its ubiquitous rotation on FX)
Are you discerning the lazy, tossed-off way I’m approaching this? I do like Iron Man - in fact, it’s hard to find much that’s actively wrong about it - but it’s definitely not among my favorites. I think that by 2008 I’d simply slipped into a superhero movie malaise where yet another origin story and yet another set of quippy action scenes and yet another string of CGI-heavy flying-slinging-punching-world-domination antics had felt like they’d run their respective courses.
And worse for IM, 2008 was post-Batman Begins, which did find a new sheen to apply to those well-worn tropes. So there was even a bigger challenge to face.
Still, IM does a fairly decent job for what it is, and I will say that whoever thought to hand such an auspicious set of franchise keys over to the guy who’d only directed Elf and Zathura has to be some kind of a Hollywood savant. Favreau does a pretty fantastic job of keeping things moving along well, and watching this again I’m reminded at just how tight a story it is; how briskly it moves along and hits beats that, while not unique, are uniquely - and entertainingly - rendered.
As far as Robert Downey Jr. in the role? I think Tumblr has that covered already. But casting Jeff Bridges as the big bad in this kind of movie was a masterstroke. The fact alone that he shaved off all that glorious, epic hair is enough to earn my admiration. He’s just so damn good, always so watchable and exciting, and one of the things that so frustrates me about the superhero movie genre is the way in which 95% of the badguys are killed off in the end, which denies us future stories with such strong and well-played villains. IM2 certainly didn’t improve in this department, and it remains to be seen if 3 will succeed there, either.
Ultimately, this remains a good bit of rewatchable fun, and seeing it in quality HD is definitely a plus. I still don’t feel motivated to own it, however, and even after two years I’m not sure that the stink of IM2 has quite faded from memory enough to make 3 a must-see in the theatre.
Instead I’ll merely remind you that it’s a gorgeous little rose blossom of a movie, exquisitely (of course) shot by Roger Deakins; spectacularly (naturally) engaging because of the Coen brothers’ overall mastery; forever (like you didn’t know) rewatchable due to Bridges’ fun and heartfelt take on the character and the fresh revelation of Hailee Steinfeld.
Here’s the thing: this really wasn’t a movie that was aching to be remade. There were, as far as I could tell, no movie fans or studioheads or accountants or agents who woke up one morning and said “Golly, what we REALLY need the Coen brothers to do now is a classic western.”
Yet they did. And as movies (and their movies) go, it’s not a perfect piece or at the very top of their game. It doesn’t inspire deep meaningful thought or discourse.
It’s just a simple, delightful, pleasure. Comfortable. Quietly strong. A warm, welcome, cinematic meal.
My 2013 Movies: Children of Men (2006, on Blu-ray, home collection)
Oh so much has already been written about this beautiful, brilliant movie that it’s hard to know what I can even add, except how sad it makes me that it took me so long to own it. On some subconscious level, I must have known that I’d be happier to wait until I had a Blu-ray player, even before such things existed. I just knew.
How was this not nominated for Best Picture? Why didn’t Clive Owens explode after this movie? Why didn’t they throw Cuarón into the deep reboot-Bond pool prior to Casino Royale?
In truth, it’s gratifying that such things didn’t ripple throughout the movie industry after Children of Men came out; instead it remains one of those quiet masterpieces, a precious gift that we can feel like we have all to ourselves; only we know its wonders and sublime thrills - not like those big mass-audience Titantics and Departeds and whatnot. This is one just for us. The ones who know.
And COM is truly just so that great. Its realistic, timeless setting - so familiar and frightening, even though it’s framed in such a way that we convince ourselves it’s a future story. Its bleak, hopeless misery - which makes the brief moments of wonder and beauty so much more powerful: the cat climbing up Theo’s leg; the laughs shared with Jasper; the ping-pong ball trick in the car. The story’s sense of duty, passion, hope - these things have so much more impact - and carry far more sadness - because of just how powerful they become set against this landscape.
Cuarón (and, of course, his whole production and writing team here) really accomplishes many wonderful things, melding cinematic storytelling with action and character and commentary and seamlessly excellent special effects (take a look on the disc at the birthing scene explainer to have your mind appropriately blown) in the creation of a modern classic, endlessly rewatchable.
My 2013 Movies - Argo/Silver Linings Playbook Double Feature (2012, at the theatre)
Hm. How to connect these two…?
“Oscar-winning movies that I should have seen way earlier than I did”?
“Clever movie-making that takes serious liberties with source material”?
“Characters who realize their goals through lies and subterfuge”?
Or I could stick with the truth: “movies I shoehorned into the final weekend before the Oscars”.
Although that makes it sound like these were a chore I had to accomplish, which was certainly not the case at all. I liked both of these movies quite a bit, but reading additional material about them afterwards has caused me to experience a little bit of “what might have been…”
As in, “what if SLP had stuck closer to the book?” which, as I understand it (but have not read personally) was a bit darker, less conventional, without the joint dance competition bring-them-together goal. Or “I wonder if Argo fabricated much, if not most, of the third-act tension” which, apparently, oh hell yes it most certainly does, because the reality was much less movie-friendly and of course - as it most certainly always is - more mundane. And one wonders whether both of these movies could have benefited by being less conventional, less Hollywood-ish, more unexpectedly different.
Maybe. But then they become something else entirely, and it’s pretty silly to speculate which is better or worse. Even though I just did.
But contemplate these simply in terms of movie-making and now we’re talking. Because both do quite a fine job indeed at telling their stories, making us care, crafting characters who are intriguing and unexpected in their own ways and more than capable of holding our interest. Both these movies are shot and acted and edited with such cinematic love and affection that it’s pretty hard not to want to spend time with them. And both of these have passionate, exciting directors behind them, two men whose projects may not necessarily fit into neat Hollywood slots, but who absolutely command your attention at what they might do next.
My 2013 Movies: Zero Dark Thirty (2012, at the theatre)
We all have movies we love, and movies we can’t stand. Directors and writers and actors we stand by regardless of material, and filmmakers who drive us insane with rage. And there are the things we know about the act of actually going to the movies: the things inside us that we trust as movie-watchers - and then there are those delicious, unexpected discoveries.
And - speaking now only for myself - there are movies that we love watching, love absorbing, dig the ever-loving hell out of their artistry…but somehow know that we’ll probably never watch them again. And yet we still love them.
Right now, at this moment, that’s how Zero Dark Thirty stacks up for me.
I loved watching this. Loved. There are moviegoing experiences where you’re simply sitting there in the dark and that bright screen is just so big and the deep bases are rattling your stomach and you just love to soak down into it and give in. Give in to filmmakers you trust. I’ve grown so much in appreciation for Kathryn Bigelow’s movies over the years, her particular vision and style, and she’s one of those directors that I get just so excited to hear what’s coming, and how she’ll handle it. The unpredictability of her efforts really gets to me; it puts me into that theatre seat each and every time.
I enjoyed how much ZDT reminded me of Zodiac in its years-long narrative; its slow-but-never-dull procedural details; its secondary characters given little but crucial things to do (that White House hallway chat between Mark Strong and Stephen Dillane!); its sublime thrills; its main-characters-with-no-outside-lives.
ZDT is crafted just so well. Every frame. I love how it avoids big eureka movie moments, never panders to gung-ho booyah macho posturing, provides us in Maya with a character with so very, very much going on inside her without ever telling us what that is, besides the obvious. Chastain is luminous in this, just spectacular.
But I can’t shake this feeling that it’s a movie I’ll likely never revisit. And it’s not because of the uncomfortableness of some of its topics; it’s not because the controversy enrages or disenfranchises me. I simply feel like the story is told now, definitively, and I may not get more out of it if I watch it again. Maybe I’m afraid I’ll find flaws, or I’ll like it less, but I’ve experienced this before with cinematic milestones that I loved watching - but not rewatching. And I think - think - that it’s not because I didn’t like it, or that I doubt its quality. There’s a difference, somehow, in something you loved and want to experience again, and something extraordinary that you just want to leave alone. Leave it to that solitary experience.
Is this just me, or do you have titles like that? A movie you love but don’t feel like watching, maybe ever again? Schindler’s List is also like that for me.
My 2013 Movies: Léon: The Professional (1994, on Blu-ray, home collection)
Has ever a seemingly tossed-off action movie, with all of its familiar tropes, still contained so many cinematic revelations at the same time?
Criminally young Portman! Virtual-unknown-to-U.S.-audiences Reno! A foreign director out-actioning traditional action directors! (although, to be fair, True Lies and Speed were also in ‘94) A movie with tremendously staged action yet still loads of heart, character, and emotional impact.
And one can hardly spill another word about Léon without mentioning
These may not seem like revelations now, but in 1994 I was working at Warner Bros., home of Lethal Weapon and Steven Seagal and Joel Silver. I worked for producers who wanted to make intriguing, book-minded movies, yet their constant clashes over material with market-minded WB stymied most efforts at originality. It was my job to find material for them that was familiar, tested, blockbustery - yet still fresh! Revelatory!
It really wasn’t easy. And yet movies like Léon would pop up and show everyone how it’s supposed to be done.