Palo Alto – Gia Coppola (2014)

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PIECES OF APRIL
Gia, the next Coppola in line, on adapting Palo Alto and being her own Coppola
By: Rob Boylan

Like the Kennedys in politics or the Mannings in football, film has its own dynasty in the form of the Coppola family. Along with the Hustons, the Coppolas are the only family in Oscar history to have three generations of winners. Together, the family owns 8 statues (double the Hustons’ 4), spread across Carmine, Francis, Sofia and Nicolas Cage, with a combined 24 nominations. And now there is a new generation starting to wade out into the world being spearheaded by Gia Coppola and her film Palo Alto.

But when I ask her about growing up in a dynasty over the phone, the tenor of conversation shifts. “I mean, I don’t know any other way of living. It’s very normal,” she says with a slight sense of frustration growing in her voice. “I have such an appreciation for my family and their movies. I’ve learned so much from them just growing up on their movie sets, but at the same time I wanted to grow and face my own challenges.

“[But Palo Alto] was made through James’s production company [instead of American Zoetrope], so it was really important for me to do this on my own and find my own voice.”

The James in that sentence is James Franco, whose book of short stories was adapted by Coppola for the screen, and who also co-stars as the charming-creepy girls soccer coach, Mr. B.

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The stories are somewhat separate in the book, but have been combined by Coppola to form a rotisserie of angst, alienation, abuse and ennui where bad decisions and drugs abound for the loosely affiliated group of friends, April (Emma Roberts), Teddy (Jack Kilmer), Fred (Nat Wolff) and Emily (Zoe Levin).

April and Teddy make up much of the film’s focus. They are mutual crushes, but because of crossed wires neither realizes it and both look elsewhere for someone to love them back. That leads them down different paths, but both of them only find emotional landmines in their way.

April is the sensitive soul who puts on a nonchalant front, who smokes and drinks because she wouldn’t fit in otherwise. Even with that front, she doesn’t really fit in. She flits from group to group searching for a comfortable niche to fit into, but never really finds anything but a parody of comfort when Mr. B begins to take an interest in her as more than Coach.

Teddy is more sensitive than the rest as well, but its to a more skewed degree than April. He is sensitive and still childlike — in one piece of the film he dreams of being in a wolf suit, playing an anguished Max from Where the Wild Things Are — but he stops a few steps short of April’s sensitive nature. Even with a loving family at home, his front goes a few steps beyond when Teddy crashes his car while drunk and flees the scene.

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“James’s book is dark at times. I tried to make certain things a little hopeful, but I also knew I didn’t want to totally change it … That stuff does go on and life is dark sometimes.” Things do seem darker of late, kids more wired than I remember. “I don’t think emotions change,” she says when I ask if kids are under more pressure to succeed than when she or I were their age. “Its kind of an organic thing that we all go through where we’re physically and hormonally changing. It feels really heavy.”

It makes me wonder if a film can be too organic though. In my head I can counter the idea that the film meanders or doesn’t find its dramatic ending by telling myself that teenagers meander and only have dramatic endings if they die. If being a teenager weren’t intensely boring, it wouldn’t lead to drinking or seeing which drug is the most fun to abuse the hell out of. The fact that teenagers need something else to make them more interesting maybe means that films about teenagers need something else to make them as interesting as they can be. Maybe not always as extreme a basketball playing wolfman, but something. In that sense, Palo Alto only manages to get to third base. As an audience, it’s a good time but we keep our underwear on.

Nobody makes a perfect first film though. To harp on the family angle again for a moment, neither Dementia 13 nor The Virgin Suicides were perfect either. It takes a minute to learn the rules of the game and how to bend them to your will to make the picture you want to make. To distinguish yourself in the T-Rex-sized footprints of such a famous family can’t be an easy task, but on the other hand, who would bet against a Coppola?

Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick – Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky

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For most of its history, comics have been a man’s man’s man’s world – or more accurately, a boy’s boy’s boy’s world. They’ve been the place where uncool boys went to escape the various rejections they found in the real world and live in a world of hulking he-men and impossibly beautiful, powerful (and, of course, half-naked) women. But something strange happened in the early ’90s. New creators like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, Tim Burton’sBatman, The Death of Superman, X-Men Volume 2and Image Comics all created a swirl of hype. Comics became collectibles, coveted like baseball cards. Cool people started to read them, and, even weirder, so did girls.

For all their readership over the years, girls haven’t been so warmly welcomed into the mainstream comics world, and female characters haven’t typically been written with as much attention to detail as they’ve been drawn. Though it’s saddled with a ridiculous title, Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals looks to hack away at that perception by mixing sex and superpowers in a novel way, one that opens up a heretofore unmined deposit of dick and butt jokes that would make any teenage boy giddy. But the thing is, the main character isn’t a boy.

The first volume, One Weird Trick, covers the first five issues of the monthly series from Image. It follows the strange life of Suzie, a 20-something librarian who learns as a kid that she has a special power: She can stop time when she has an orgasm. It’s a feel-good-yet-scary place for her – one that she dubs “the Quiet.” She has questions, but none of the adults are willing to explain things to her. Turning to the school slut, Rach, for help, she proceeds to get a lesson full of the most absurd, hilarious sex positions ever penciled onto a bathroom stall wall: “bloobing,” “quisping,” “swaffling” and “E.T. the Sex Move” – but none of them explain the stopping-time business.

It’s not until adulthood that anyone can help, when she meets Jon, a handsome actor-slash-secretary who charms her by quoting Lolita. In her room, as she enters the Quiet, something new and alarming happens: He’s there too, glowing penis and all. It’s a startling but magnetic discovery for both of them, that they’re not alone in this strange, embarrassing world anymore.

Sex isn’t usually well-defined in comics. We’re aware that Mary Jane and Peter have sex, but there has never been a curiously tight-cropped panel of MJ’s eyes in any Spider-Man books. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage have anal sex in Alias, but that was just some shock-and-awe for Marvel’s adult imprint, Max.

It starts to feel a bit like a cop-out by Fraction when Jon suggests they rob the bank he works at (where Suzie’s father also worked) to help save her library, but the idea is ill-conceived on purpose by Fraction. Things don’t go as planned, and Suzie and Jon find out the Quiet is a much larger place than either of them could have guessed, one that is even patrolled by its own superhero team.

As much as the Quiet becomes a place of revenge for Jon, it’s more complex for Suzie. It’s about sex, but it’s also wrapped up with her father’s death and her mother’s alcoholic near-catatonia. Like comics for uncool boys, the Quiet becomes her escape from rejection. She doesn’t use it for quiet; she uses it to scream at the top of her lungs because it’s the only place where she can. In that way, Sex Criminals goes far beyond novelty, maybe even far beyond what we think of when we think of comics.

John Canemaker’s “The Lost Notebook” documents Disney at its best moment

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If you’ve never heard of Herman Schultheis, you’re not alone. Ironically a relentless self-promoter who may have suffered from a persecution complex, Schultheis was a minor employee at the Disney Animation Studios from 1937 until 1941, during the period that saw their best output: PinocchioBambiDumbo and Fantasia.

Schultheis was born in Germany at the turn of the century and emigrated to New York just before the Depression. He considered himself a jack of all trades (though some of his co-workers would contend that he was a master of none), and was fixated on working in Hollywood to show off the talents he thought so highly of.

Though not an animator like Ub Iwerks or Ward Kimball, Schultheis did have an art of a kind: his technical skills in photography and photo manipulation. Once he was finally hired at a studio after years of doggedly trying, he helped improve the studio’s workflow with tests that brought greater clarity to animation photostats and Kodak’s photochemical wash-off relief cels, which reproduced animation sheets more faithfully than hand-inked cels did.

But anything he may have added to the films seems dwarfed now by the release of this immaculately kept and fully annotated notebook, which contains innumerable notes and diagrams on effects shots, research photographs, promotional stills and photographs of life at the Disney Animation Studios: men and women at work creating timeless films.

From an animation standpoint, the notes and diagrams are an amazing discovery. The trove of details and technical drawings about how effects and gags were done, diagrams and test drawings (especially of the multiplane camera shot that opens Pinocchio) is an especially exciting find. From a film history view, it’s the behind-the-scenes photos on the lot at the new and old Disney Studios that make the price worthwhile.

But I would come to a full stop before calling this Disneyana, which is, let’s be honest, a catchall term for the least interesting of all things Disney. This is an animation history book that just happens to document Disney. If Schultheis had worked at Warner’s or Hanna-Barbera, it would be just as insightful — though the period he worked at Disney was particularly interesting because it was during a time before the employee strike, when Walt didn’t seem to care about inflated budgets as much as the quality of the animation.

Schultheis was a polarizing figure inside the studio, however. He had his champions, but also his critics, the most vocal of whom was fellow effects man Bob Broughton, who called Schultheis a glory hog, allowing that he made contributions to the films, but never as the chief innovator. In the notebook that Canemaker’s book reproduces in full, it’s rare to see anyone else’s work, or at least anyone else credited for their work. If you didn’t know better, you might think that Schultheis was Walt Disney’s secret identity, so much credit is taken. It goes further still: There were whisper campaigns about Schultheis being a Hitler-lover (doubtful) and a Nazi spy (very doubtful), and in maybe the worst insult someone could give at the time, Broughton called him the least member of the Disney family. He may have had personal failings and been the least enmeshed member of the Disney family, but sometimes that’s the only way you get to take all of the pictures.

30 years of raiding Barry Manilow’s wardrobe

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Saturday…March 24, 1984. Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois 60062. Dear Mr. Vernon…we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was that we did wrong. What we did was wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write this essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us…in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athelete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at seven o’clock this morning.

We were brainwashed…

It’s such a strange and disorienting feeling when a touchstone of being young and frustrated turns a landmark age as John Hughs’s The Breakfast Club does today (or by the date it takes place on anyway; its release date was in February).

The film belongs strongly to the 80s — it might be the signature film of the 80s, in fact — but throughout the years has become timeless as generations since have picked up on its keen observations and well drawn characters. They are detailed to enough to be specific and alive, yet broad enough for everyone to have someone in the film to latch onto. Everyone has an in. It’s the basket case for me, though I can certainly see things from Brian and Andy’s perspectives as well.

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The film came out when I was still 3 years old, yet feels attuned to how I felt at 16 when I finally saw it years later. As much as they are a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal, none of them are. It’s all fear and stupidity. That’s all being a teenager is about, it just comes out in different ways. It sounds cliche and overly reductive to say it like that, but the best themes in film are always the simplest themes. It’s all a matter of dramatic (or comedic) degree after that.

Whether he actually knew he was writing about fear or not, Hughes destroyed it when he wrote the script (the first draft allegedly over one weekend — read it here, it’s a very good read and has more insight into the characters). He’d written and directed entertaining movies before (as he did after) but never made anything as powerful, perceptive, funny or universal.

There is a line in the original draft of the screenplay when Bender is hiding under the table and sticks his head up Claire’s (Cathy, early) skirt that sort of reminds of me Hughes writing this script:

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Raw, unrepeatable power is the perfect notion of this film. It’s lightning, caught.

Though as lightning does when it strikes, it leaves the ground marred. I’ve always considered the ending of the film (mostly Allison cleaning up and hooking up with Andy, while Brain is forever alone) to be a black mark on the film. I’m hardly alone in that though, of course. The issue stems from this: Hughes has the princess clean the basket case up and pairs her off with the jock. That just didn’t work for me on any level when I was younger. I considered it cinematic theft by the criminally insane misfit, John Hughes.

But I’m older now. The film is 30, I’m 33. I’m an adult, sort of, and I see the ending different — or at least I feel it less. I’m not as attached to the film itself or the characters as I am to the idea of myself being young and frustrated by adults and this film reflecting that so well. The more true ending would have been the five reverting to their social roles come Monday morning, but in a strange way Hughes might have written the most teenage ending to the film possible, because, really, what does a teenager do better than making a mistake at the worst moment?

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2013 Top 10

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This may be the earliest I’ve ever completed a Top Ten list in my life, not even half way into January.

01) The Grandmaster – Wong Kar Wai (Hong Kong) *****
02) Her – Spike Jonze (USA) **** 1/2
03) An Oversimplification of Her Beauty – Terrence Nance (USA)
04) Frances Ha – Noah Baumbach (USA)
05) The Great Beauty – Paolo Sorrentino (Italy)
06) Inside Llewyn Davis – Coen Bros (USA)
07) 12 Years a Slave – Steve McQueen (UK/USA)
08) Short Term 12 – Destin Daniel Creton (USA)
09) Gravity – Alfonso Cuaron (USA)
10) The Broken Circle Breakdown – Felix Van Groeningen (Belgium) ****

The Top Five Documentaries of 2013

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http://orlandoweekly.com/film/the-top-five-documentaries-of-2013-1.1610107

One of the biggest topics of discussion in film circles in 2013 was the dearth of women directors and leads, especially in mainstream films. It’s absolutely the right time to have that conversation (it’s way past due, honestly), but just because there weren’t enough women represented in the industry doesn’t mean there weren’t any worth noting. It just so happens that some of the best docs made in 2013 involved women as subjects or directors. Here is my pick for the best documentaries made in 2013 – and all of them featured women, either on screen or behind the camera.

Blackfish
directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, available on VOD

Easily the most important documentary of the year for Central Florida, Blackfish tells the story of Tilikum, the largest orca living in captivity, at Orlando’s SeaWorld. Tilikum has been involved in three human deaths, the last of which was in 2010, when trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by the giant whale after a show. The power of this film comes from Cowperthwaite’s ability to make the case that, although Tilikum has killed, he is also a victim. She interviews former SeaWorld trainers, employees and a former orca poacher who calls the capture of Tilikum as a young, wild whale one of the worst things he’s ever done.

The Act of Killing
directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn and Anonymous, available Jan. 7

There is no real precedent for processing this stunning film about a 1960s death squad leader, Anwar Congo, who agrees (quite proudly) to film re-enactments of his murders. By his own count, Congo has killed 1,000 Indonesian “communists” (read: anyone unwilling or unable to pay bribes; or not behind the military dictatorship; or Chinese) in his lifetime. The re-enactments are so calmly done that the film feels like a surrealist nightmare.

Cutie and the Boxer 
directed by Zachary Heinzerling, available on VOD

Love is a dumb emotion. It’s not a stupid emotion to have, it’s just dumb. And deaf. And blind. Love doesn’t care what’s best for you. This is a general truth, not a universal truth, but it’s certainly true for artist Noriko Shinohara, who is madly in love with her husband and fellow artist, Ushio, who is dubbed Bullie in Noriko’s “Cutie” graphic stories. The story of this dynamic pair unfolds at a natural pace as she struggles to find her artistic voice and he struggles to get someone to pay him for his talents so they can keep the lights on.

Manhunt
directed by Greg Barker, available on VOD

If you saw Zero Dark Thirty, you’ll recognize a lot in this documentary about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. It’s told primarily from the point of view of the crew of women at the CIA who assembled the secrets of al-Qaida from disparate pieces of information, sometimes discovered years and countries apart. Through interviews with the analysts, in-country agents and reporters, this engrossing film proves to be one of the most important documents of 9/11, its extremist roots and its aftermath.

Stories We Tell
directed by Sarah Polley, available on VOD/DVD

Polley emerges as a brilliant storyteller in this personal film about her mother, and whether or not her father is really her father. The film is occasionally too self-aware, but it’s emotionally compelling and intelligently constructed.

The Most Underrated Movies of 2013 IV: The Stragglers

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Good Ol’ Freda –  Ryan White (Available on Netflix)

The world is running out of original Beatles stories; in fact, this may be the last one, as the Beatles and their contemporaries enter their 70s and, as Freda Kelly notes at one point, many of them are already gone. The story is one of a young girl who won the social lottery, happening upon the Beatles in the Cavern Club before they made it big and becoming tight enough with the band that they eventually asked her to work for them as secretary. Kelly also served as president of the bands’ fan club, hounding each member for autographs and locks of hair for adoring fans who wrote in because she knew exactly what it was to be one. Kelly is remarkable for her service, but more still for not taking advantage of it, cashing in with a tell all book or selling any of her incredibly rare memorabilia picked up from her time with the band. It is at once frustrating and enamoring that Kelly still holds to her Beatles secrets to this day, even with a camera in her face.

No Place on Earth – Janet Tobias (Available on Netflix)

If it came to it, if Nazis were coming, could you survive in a cave for nearly two years? What a question, but that’s what it came to for a handful of Jewish families in rural Ukraine as the Nazis arrived during World War II. The film focuses on the Stermer family in particular in this recreation of the 511 days of fear, hunger and darkness the endured that was brought back to life after a man from New York came across shoes, keys and buttons while caving in the Ukraine. It took him a decade to suss out any part of the story before finally coming upon the diary of Esther Stermer, the matriarch of one of the families who survived life in the cave.

Ip Man: The Final Fight – Herman Yau (Available on Netfix)

By now, you must all know who Ip Man is, the legendary Chinese martial artist and teacher of the Wing Chung school whose most famous student was Bruce Lee. He is the new Wong Fei Hong right now, and your choices are almost limitless if you want to watch a movie about them. The Final Fight is more of a traditional biopic version of the story, condensing much of his life into two hours. There are plenty of fight scenes though, and the film won the Daniel A. Craft Award for Excellence in Action Cinema at the NY Asian Film Festival last year. This is the version of the story that brings its lunchpail to work with it.

Touchy Feely – Lynn Shelton (Available on Netflix)

It’s kind of hard to believe Josh Pais is the same actor who, vocally at least, brought the ball of rage that is Rafael to life in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the first and best one, not this new bullshit). In Touchy Feely he plays a timid, conservative dentist. He is a comic foil for his wild, hippy massage therapist sister (Rosemarie DeWitt) until their fates interchange: he finds that his hands can heal, while she loses the ability she’s been honing and comes to loath the touch of another person’s skin. The cast of this bright, unassuming comedy is filled out by Allison Janney and Ellen Page. Lynn Shelton continues to be a voice to pay attention to in independent film.

Which Way Is the Frontline From Here: The Life and Times of Tim Hetherington – Sebastian Junger (Available to stream on HBOGO)

Tim Hetherington, the photojournalist who came to wide prominence for the Oscar nominated documentary Restrepo, is lovingly profiled here by his friend (and fellow Oscar nominee) Sebastian Junger following his tragic death in Libya, where he was covering the uprising. Featuring interviews from family, friends and fellow journalists, it is a compelling, no bullshit account of Hetherington’s too-short life. He was a brilliant photographer, seemingly because he didn’t care about photography — he cared about the people he was photographing. Borrow someone’s HBOGO password if you have to, but see this.

The Most Underrated Movies of 2013 III: The Animes

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We’re fans of all types of film around these parts, and some of the best films of 2013 were feature length anime. I can’t pretend that Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises even comes close to fitting the “underrated” banner, but it led a particularly strong pack of films this year (it opens in Orlando at the end of February, but has already played NY and LA for Oscar qualification), films worth highlighting as much as any others — and that’s without having seen Mardock Scramble, One Piece Film Z or Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo.

Wolf Children – Mamoru Hosoda (DVD/Blu out now)

I always viewed Mamoru Hosoda as more of an art director than a storyteller, but he fully brushed that bias off of his shoulder with Wolf Children, a coming-of-age story about two half-human/half-wolf children and the trouble their human mother goes through in raising them after their shape shifting wolfman father is killed while out hunting to feed his new family. Before long the childrens’ wolf instincts get them from their Tokyo apartment and their mother decides to move them to a rural town to keep their secret safe. But once there, the secret becomes more explosive. It’s a touching story, and Hosoda’s comedic instincts are both well measured and well timed, something he didn’t manage to do in Summer Wars.

Colorful – Keiichi Hara (DVD/Blu out now)

Though it was originally released in Japan in 2010, it wasn’t until 2013 that Colorful became available in North America. It’s the story of a recently deceased boy who arrives to the afterlife and finds out he’s being given a second chance at life, albeit in the body of a 14 year old boy who has just committed suicide. He is tasked with discovering his own greatest sin in life, as well as discovering the secret of his host’s suicide. I had some problems with this film initially — the characters are very hard to like in the moment — but it’s grown in my mind in the months since seeing it and I find I appreciate the film the more I think about it and its maddening plot twists. Life and death are maddening ideas on their own, ones that you can’t shut yourself off to just because you don’t like the idea of it.

From Up on Poppy Hill – Goro Miyazaki (DVD/Blu out now)

From Up on Poppy Hill, a high school melodrama set right before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, is somewhat of a departure from the norm for Studio Ghibli. Though co-written by Hayao Miyazaki with Ghibli regular Keiko Niwa, there are no flying pigs, wolf girls or floating cities. Instead, there is young love – and only young love.  It’s a sweet film, almost an idealized film of youth and zeitgeist. The analogies and metaphor might come from the manga that the film is based on, but the soft, measured feel of youth seems to come directly from Hayao Miyazaki’s memory, more like reminiscence than anything else. I do feel a little badly for Goro Miyazaki though, being stuck with that name and forever living under the eclipsing shadow of his legendary father. If he were Goro Suzuki, say, he might be regarded better, a good director but not a great director; at least he would be regarded without a qualifier.

The Garden of Words – Makoto Shinkai (DVD/Blu out now)

Makoto Shinkai and his team are simply the greatest and most detailed artists currently making features. The attention they give the photographic quality of art and the animation in their films is just staggering and worth any price to watch for by itself. Unfortunately the storytelling is a weak point in The Garden of Words, which is about a 15 year old boy who dreams of becoming a shoemaker who meets a mysterious older woman in the park on rainy days. While they bond over poetry and he makes a pair of shoes for her as a gift, the relationship is a little removed from reality. It’s too reserved to handle the burst of emotion in the climax.

The Most Underrated Movies of 2013 II: The Revenge

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For the most part, I say good riddance to 2013. For me and my memory bank, it won’t be a good vintage. But my charge here is to write about movies, and 2013 did see its fair share of good ones. Like I’ve done the last couple of years, I’m going to piggyback the Underrated piece I had in the paper and empty my brain of more under-loved films that I didn’t have room to write about in print.

It wasn’t necessarily a great vintage for the top end of the spectrum of the moviegoing experience either, neither in arthouse nor mainstream films. There were certainly enough films to be satisfied by, but to look over the various top 10 lists is to be slightly disappointed. But what the top lacked, the middle had in abundance. Here are five more to keep an eye out for.

Enough Said – Nicole Holofcener (VOD out now, DVD 1/14)

Enough Said was probably not underrated upon its release as much as it was sent into the spotlight for the wrong reason, the unfortunate death of James Gandolfini. The bright side of this film is that Julia Louis-Dreyfus just keeps getting better and better in a way that’s completely unfair to other comedic actresses, but the downside is that the farther removed from Gandolfini’s death, the clearer it becomes that he will be perhaps one of the most missed actors ever. The two share such an easy on-screen chemistry that the film is a joy to watch even when they are fighting. Holofcener branches out too. Always one to make well observed dramas, this is a well observed drama with an earthy layer of comedy set upon it.

The Past – Asghar Farhadi (Coming Soon)

The twisting and turning of Farhadi’s The Past starts out so slow that you might be tempted to give up on it, but it’s a rewarding drama once the momentum is built up (about 40 minutes in, in my opinion). The story unfolds in a torrent of lies and omissions (still a sin, right?) that are not as fulfilling as guesswork as much as they lead to fulfilling dramatic scenes between Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) and the family of his ex-wife, Marie (Berenice Bejo), and her new fiance, Samir (Tahar Rahim). Melodrama is almost a lost artform but when it’s done right it’s so good.

Mud – Jeff Nichols (DVD/VOD out now)

Where has this Matthew McConaughey been all these years? Since The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past flopped in 2009 he’s done nothing but make risky, amazing films, starting with The Lincoln Lawyer through to his three films this year: Mud, The Dallas Buyer’s Club and The Wolf of Wall Street. Let his career be a light for others because we’re all better off because of it.

The Kings of Summer – Jordan Vogt-Roberts (DVD/VOD out now)

This is about as solid a coming-of-age film as you’re ever likely to find. It’s wish-fulfilling — who hasn’t wanted to run away and live in the woods after a particularly bad fight with their parents? But that’s a heat of the moment decision, not a well thought out plan for a life. The film shows both sides with equal care and weight, and it comes with bonus Ron Swanson rage.

Blue Caprice – Alexandre Moors (DVD 1/14)

This story about the Beltway snipers is told with a quality of paranoia that made New Hollywood such a vital experience. Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond are so good together in the first half of the film, while they are bonding, they make it so hard to look away once the film turns into a horror story.

The Most Underrated Movies of 2013

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Over the last few weeks, every paper, blog, magazine and friend on Facebook has probably offered you their list of the top 10 movies of 2013. Probably with some combination of Her, Gravity, 12 Years a Slave and Inside Llewyn Davis at the top. Probably, you’ve thought about beating the next person who offers a top 10 list to death with their own shoe. So with that in mind, we offer another kind of list. Not the top 10, but of the films that got lost in the cracks and crevices of critical and social appreciation. Films that deserve so much more.

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty – Terrence Nance

Told in flurry of live action, hand drawn animation and stop motion animation, the film is a half art piece/half documentary soap bubble of complexities, encapsulating the emotions and self-sabotage a young man of a certain lovesick, melancholy demeanor tends to put himself through, spilling the secrets of young men the same way Girls has for young women.

Boy – Taika Waititi

Though the film never takes anything about itself seriously, there is nothing frivolous about Boy. It’s a serious work that happens to be swaddled in a gauzy wrapping of oddball quirkiness like bubblegum flavored medicine, but there is a heartbreakingly relatable story of fathers and sons and disappointment underneath the bedrock of 80s jokes and the lyrical mix of tall tales and inventive cursing.

Short Term 12 – Destin Daniel Creton

It’s a tough thing these days to make a film about child abuse that doesn’t end up on the Lifetime movie of the week side of the ledger. The thematic pitfalls of the genre are many and hard to escape, but Creton embraces them here, even manipulates them to his will. He asks much of Brie Larson, but she delivers everything he asks for and then some as the counselor to broken kids who once was — and in too many ways still is — a broken kid herself.

The Broken Circle Breakdown – Felix Van Groeningen

This may be the greatest hillbilly film since Rip Torn starred in Payday, but there is a twist: it’s from Belgium. Didier is an America-obsessed bluegrass band leader, and Elise is a tattoo-obsessed artist who discovers a killer voice when she sits in with the band. They fall in love and have a child while the band flourishes. In the great tradition of country songs, you can probably guess where all of that happiness goes. Johan Heldenbergh and Veerle Baetens are electric on screen together.

The Great Beauty – Paolo Sorrentino

Jep Gambardella is a novelist who has given up his search for something new to write about 40 years after his modest hit of a novel, instead floating in his existential apathy through the labyrinthine Roman night life. But now he’s turn 65 and the returns on the night life are diminishing. Sorrentino’s sprawling and beautiful, but devilishly backhanded ode to Rome is the kind of love/hate letter that inherits the spirit and dismay Fellini imbued La Dolce Vita with.

The We and the I – Michel Gondry

If you ever took the bus home from school as a teenager, this film may be an unwanted kick in the head that brings back old horror stories and panic attacks. It’s every high school aged social nightmare stuffed into one slow moving, zit-filled bus. But it’s also brilliant and uncannily observed. The teenage actors are uneven, as you might expect, but the wit and horror make it easy to overlook. Gondry has made a true film that can sit aside The Science of Sleep and Eternal Sunshine.

Twixt – Francis Ford Coppola

Saddled with a terrible trailer and dumped onto VOD after a year of trying to attract a distributor, Twixt was destined to fail. But it’s an injustice, even if the film is campy as hell. Val Kilmer returns from a long vacation as the charming, chill Val Kilmer we used to know (albeit fatter), while  Elle Fanning continues to pad an already incredible resume as the little deal girl who haunts him.

The Grandmaster – Wong Kar Wai

So much was written about the alternate U.S. cut controversy that the film itself seemed to get lost in the shuffle. Having seen both versions of the film, I’m struck by the silliness of the controversy. They work so well together as companion pieces, telling the same story from slightly different vantage points. Scenes excised from each shed light on the other to the point that they feel like sibling films, though the U.S. cut is visually marred with an unfortunate amount of style-less screen text.