Gravity (2013) Yup, everything you’ve heard about Gravity is true. Revolutionary effects, stunning storytelling, powerhouse acting, the whole works. But the most amazing thing? Even more than recent exception-proves-the-rule stuff like Hugo and Life of Pi, Gravity is that rare film that has pretty much the entire film critic community, a group that cringes at the very thought of 3D, insisting this is a film that must be experienced in three dimensions, and on as big a screen as possible. Even jaded ol’ me, whose longtime love of the format was crushed years ago by too many upcharges for too many bad movies, insists you pay for the full experience. And Gravity is one hell of an experience – even without the high tech gimmickry, there’s an artistry at play that we’ve seldom seen before on a screen of any size. I probably need three or four or twenty more viewings to truly digest it all, especially the way it handles its scope, both vast and internal, but for now, I’ll simply call it amazing.
Rush (2013) I went straight from Gravity to Rush, which felt mild in comparison, but only just. Ron Howard’s Euro-racing biopic is an assured work of a veteran eager to experiment within the confines of an old fashioned genre. He finds the humanity in these characters – thanks in no small part to a tremendous performance by Daniel Brühl as Niki Lauda – and delivers a sort of companion piece to Frost/Nixon, where its moments of history are focused through the lens of character study. Rush, for all its flashy editing and whizbang race sequences, is a rather relaxed film, slow and steady in its portrait of ambition and obsession.
Oblivion (2013) Poor, poor Oblivion. It’s trying so hard. Its performances are sincere, its visuals stunning, its musical score lovely. And yet… it fails at the simple act of being a movie. Perhaps that’s because it tries to copy elements from a dozen or so other, better genre efforts (to state which ones might constitute spoilers), but it does so without any heart. This is a slick, soulless affair, a lumpy pile of half-ideas filtered through a visual sheen – it’s as if Apple remade Warrior of the Lost World – that, for all its polish, doesn’t really seem interested in its own story. (Then again, there was no chance of topping this Oblivion, was there?)
Jack Reacher (2012) A perfectly good, occasionally cartoonish (I mean, the title hero is a little too perfect, ya know?) thriller with a strong mystery, enjoyable performances (hey, it’s Robert Duvall! neat, it’s Werner Herzog!), and an unexpectedly strong sense of humor, yet all I can think about is the terrible marketing behind it. Not only did they sell it as a generic actioner instead of the clever mix of Clancy and Grisham it turned out to be, they delivered that greatest of movie sins: a blank title listing only a character name. I’m tired of Jack Reachers and Jack Ryans and Alex Crosses and Captain Phillipseses cluttering up our marquees. Worse, Jack Reacher is based on a book that has an actual title and everything. It’s called One Shot, which is a movie I might bother to watch, unlike Some Guy’s Name. C’mon, Hollywood, give us titles that actually interest us.