December 30, 2013 – Here is part two of my favorite movies of the year. I’ve rated them from worst to first, but that doesn’t necessary mean the movies that appear higher on the list are bad. I simply avoided most of the rotten ones.
On Friday, I featured 16 through 9. See you next year at the movies…
“Austenland” is a story about those who not only love Jane Austen, but are obsessed with the lifestyle she writes about and the characters she’s created. The concept of a theme park aimed at lonely women comes to life in this pleasant romantic comedy. Jane (Keri Russell), a thirty something single gal, decides to spend her savings on a life-changing Jane Austen experience in England, much to the disapproval of her friends. The plot is charming and a lot funnier than I expected, and the cast, led by Russell is exceptional.
7. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Based on James Thurber’s imaginative short story, Ben Stiller directs and stars as a day dreamer who escapes his mundane life by slipping into a fantasy world. When Walter is faced with a losing his job, he takes off on a real journey filled with more action and heroism than his fantasies could imagine. The movie is so much fun, I look forward to watching the original 1947 version with Danny Kaye that played on TCM last week and is recorded on my DVR.
The movie “42”, which stars Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, the man who drafted Jackie Robinson, and Chadwick Boseman as the man himself, did an admirable job depicting the horrors the first African-American ball player in the majors endured to realize his dream. Robinson’s courage paved the way for others to follow in his footsteps, finally putting an end to segregation in Major League Baseball. They movie doesn’t gloss over the fact that Rickey wanted to bring a black player into an all-white league to attract African-American fans, which would bring in more money. Still, he comes across as a genuine man who grows to care about Robinson, and wants to help him through his fight.
5. Saving Mr. Banks
“Mary Poppins” is the first movie I remember seeing in a theater, so I credit it with my love of movies because it began a wonderful journey. I loved everything about “Saving Mr. Banks” from Emma Thompson’s performance as PL Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins series of books, to the all of the wonderful performances in this movie, and the touching back story that gives us a glimpse of where the idea for the story came from. Kudos also go out to a scene stealing Paul Giamtti, who plays PL Travers’ chauffeur, and to Jason Schwartzman and BJ Novak who play the talented songwriters for the Disney team. It was loads of fun to see them try to woo Travers with their music and lyrics.
4. August: Osage County
“August: Osage County” is the story of a bitter mother (the glorious Meryl Streep) and her daughters (Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson and Juliette Lewis). The clan gathers together after a family crisis calls them back home, and plenty of barbed conversations occur, especially from the mouth Streep’s character. It is the first pairing of Streep and Roberts, and it is rumored that the two had words on the set. I wonder if it has anything to do with an interview I remember reading years ago where Streep suggested that “Pretty Woman”, one of the most loved romantic comedies of all time that starred a young Roberts, was stupid because it glorified prostitution. Unfortunately, I can’t find reference to it anywhere, but I remember it and I certainly agree. Differences aside, all of the performances are terrific in this star packed film, which makes it a must see.
3. American Hustle
“American Hustle” tells a fictional story based on the real life Abscam sting in the 1970s. Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) plays a genius con man who finds his equal (Amy Adams), and together they make their fortune until the FBI catches on and forces the couple to work for them. Bradley Cooper (the FBI agent) and Jennifer Lawrence (Rosenfeld’s wife) round out the stellar cast that also features a cameo by Robert DeNiro. Not only is the soundtrack great, but also the 1970s clothing and hairstyles are characters themselves. The story is filled with twists and turns, clever dialogue, a lot of laughs, and a smart ending that really satisfies. I can see why it is catching a lot of Oscar buzz.
2. Inside Llewyn Davis
The Coen Brothers, who wrote and directed this interesting story that plays out like a small indy film, take us back to 1961 and the Greenwich Village Folk scene. Newcomer Oscar Isaac plays Llewyn Davis, a folk singer who has lost his singing partner to suicide and is struggling to make it as a solo act. The audience is treated to a week in the singer’s life, as he tries to make ends meet by sleeping on friends’ sofas, borrowing money from friends and family members, and trying to figure out the next move in his life. He also meets a few crazy characters along the way. Being a Coen Brothers’ movie, it also features a compelling character played by John Goodman. The movie is well acted, imaginative, has an awesome soundtrack, and provides a thought-provoking conclusion complete with a very well-known folk singer that you’re sure to recognize.
1. Blue Jasmine
Perhaps Allen is a great admirer of playwright Tennessee Williams. At times, “Blue Jasmine” bears a striking similarity to “A Streetcar Named Desire”, and could be considered a modernized version of the story. Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine, a fading Park Avenue wife who loses her wealth and everything else when her husband is arrested for fraud and a multitude of other charges, is forced to move in with her working class sister. She shares similar personality traits to Southern belle Blanche DuBois, and Blanchett gives a stunning performance in the role. By far, my favorite movie of the year.