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Frank J. Avella’s
Film Column:
2013. A Wolf of Film Years!



Ruminating on the films that affected me the most in 2013, a pattern began forming among my favorites—especially the American films. I wondered if I was forcing this theme but it seemed to crop up over and over again so I thought I’d examine it.

The films that really grabbed me this year seemed to be seriously challenging our country in one way or another—our way of life, our values (faux and otherwise), our behavior, what we pretend to be vs. what we really are as well as what we strive to be. That ‘American Dream’ bill of goods we were sold post-WW2 and how it’s evolved and morphed. How the U.S. acts like such a moral and ethical barometer the world should measure itself by when in actuality the country is fairly morally and ethically bankrupt—yet not without the possibility of salvation. And, of course, that theme can broaden to the rest of the world quite easily.

The 2013 films that mattered most were commenting on some aspect of the moral decay of American society.

Back in September, when I first experienced Steve McQueen’s masterwork, 12 Years a Slave, I proclaimed that I could not imagine a better film would be released in 2013. And while the last quarter of the year has been rich with quality films, none have really come close to 12 Years—and then I saw The Wolf of Wall Street.

Of course comparing the two films is impossible—like pears and cherries (two fruits I love much more than apples and oranges.) Both are spectacular cinematic achievements. And what they may have in common has everything to do with how the U.S. has lost its moral way at different times in history—monstrously, when it comes to slavery and how we treated human beings like possessions—often relishing it. And never has a motion picture dared to delve so deeply into the mentality of the slave owner and show how religious beliefs somehow stirred with avarice and notions of entitlement created the type of individual who would fight to the death to keep treating his fellow man like an object.

If 12 Years a Slave uncovers the blight on U.S. history we can finally admit to being ashamed of, The Wolf of Wall Street is a satiric indictment of what we still are and are in danger of continuing to be (the last shot in Scorsese’s Bacchanalian gem perfectly conveys this). Comparisons to the Roman Empire and the Unites States are glaring for anyone willing to dig a little deep.

And for those who say that important films do not entertain, there is no more entertaining moment in this film year than watching Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort’s hilarious, madcap, Chaplin-esque attempt to get home after a batch of old Quaaludes kick in. It’s ridiculous, sidesplitting dream-like sequence that follows him home and escalates to the most lunatic of moments. As we compose ourselves, we realize the reality of the situation was not the way we (he) initially perceived it. Warped perspective runs rampant in this glorious film which is why people who take it literally need to have their heads examined.

Late in the film, after Belfort has cleaned himself up, he is threatened and relapses. His violent reaction is quite sobering and we can see what he’s become. What we are all in danger of becoming if we’re not careful and we do not reexamine who we are and what we are truly doing here. Scorsese is brutally showing us what we can all turn into if we follow the greedy road we are programmed to desire from birth—where money and power can lead—not just the Romanesque excesses (that many of us covet) but the disregard for anyone and anything that stands in the way of our own pleasure—and that includes those we purport to love most. Jordan truly believes that money buys a better life, it buys happiness, it solves problems. And most of all—it takes the place of real love.

And you don’t have to be Jordan Belford-rich to have that feeling of superiority. Just look at the Tea Party and their reckless disregard for the poor and hungry in this country...but I digress…but not really…if we only knew the excesses they indulge in at night, only to sound the moral trumpet during the day…

In the soon to be released, dangerously daring French film, Stranger By the Lake, even murder—and the threat of being murdered--won’t stop men from pursuing the sexual pleasures they have come to want and need. Part of this lake milieu is the isolated and safe haven where they can hide their homosexuality from the rest of the world—probably because they were taught there was something wrong with their having feelings for the same sex. In Blue is the Warmest Color, also from France; we see how self-hatred begins early, with upbringing and schooling. In the U.S. indie, Kill Your Darlings, based on factual events, we are privy to the perilous places that self-hatred can lead.

Back to Wolf, no amount of money, power or sex can make Jordan Belfort truly like himself—although he puts forth the opposite facade. And that makes him sympathetic to me despite his nasty deeds. He found his niche in the world of high finance, where the rules simply didn’t exist for these self-proclaimed titans. And when the shit hits the fan, he disassembled the fan. Because he can. Because he was taught that it’s the only way to true happiness. He’s on an odyssey he can ever escape.

Woody Allen gives us his own take on the spoiled rich and how they’re destined to fall hard in Blue Jasmine. Cate Blanchett’s title character lived an opulent, selfish existence but must now fend for herself after her Bernie Madoff-type husband is imprisoned. Does she learn a lesson? Hardly. She pines for a return to the affluent lifestyle she used to enjoy and sets out to make that happen, no matter the cost. The results are pretty devastating, but, like Belford, she knows no other way.

Bruce Dern’s Woody in Alexander Payne’s incisive Nebraska, is a cantankerous old man who insists he’s won the Clearing House Giveaway and must get to the offices to collect his winnings. Along the way he apprehensively stops to see relations and they all want a piece of his winnings. Some of this film reminded me of Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust, a novel (and amazing film) populated with people who bought into the American Dream only to find out it was bullshit. As they grew older, they became angry, bitter and bored—and capable of losing what small grip they had left on reality. Woody and his fellow Midwesterners wanted a better life. They didn’t get that. And now Woody wants his due. He feels he deserves it. And his family feels they deserve a piece of it, too. Why? Good old-fashioned American greed.

Paul Greengrass’s Captain Phillips does not shy away from blaming American (and European) greed for the reasons the young Somalian boys turn to a life of piracy. Denied a piece of that pie (and any hope of a better life) by the warlords as well as the international community, these young men can either give up or try and steal something for themselves. The one percent exists internationally and the 99ers are getting fed up and fighting back.

Another major theme this year, which I will not go into in too much detail, is that of survival. From Gravity to 12 Years a Slave to Captain Phillips to All is Lost. And on more subtle but potent levels: Blue Jasmine, August: Osage County, Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club—even Frozen.

Here are my selections for the Best of a terrific crop of movies.

Favorite Films—The Top 13

1. The Wolf of Wall Street

Martin Scorsese’s decadent, thrilling, already-misunderstood masterpiece of American excess turns the tables on our faux morality and exposes us for the liars, cheats, sex-deviants and, basic frauds we all are capable of becoming with very little help. The vociferous hatred for this film from certain journalists and filmgoers isn’t surprising as much as it is telling. No one likes to be called out on his own bullshit. No one likes to be accused of being a part of a society that sanctions such grand savagery and debauchery without feeling any guilt or remorse. But the truth is we are weaved that way in this country. We are sold on the desire to be a part of the illustrious one percent. And the few that get there, well, they can do what they like. And those who do not get there covet being there and live their lives as if they may get there one day. The dream cannot die. And the dream has everything to do with the worship of the almighty dollar.

This film ranks with Raging Bull, Taxi Driver and Goodfellas as bold and honest depictions of America. Scorsese forces a critical eye on our country, what we’ve become, what we are in danger of becoming if we’re not careful.

The film is a visual and visceral orgy of voyeuristic vulgarity. Are you enjoying yourself yet? Sure you are, sir? Would you like to snort cocaine from that very same place, sir? Of course you would. Perhaps you’re disgusted, ma’am? Perhaps that’s because the film’s either insulted your delicate sensibilities or because you now have a feeling your husband might be enjoying himself a bit too much—or worse, actually indulging in some of that lifestyle, while you’re getting your mani-pedi.

There’s this remnant Hollywood-Production-Code mentality that depravity can be shown onscreen as long as the culprit gets it in the end—some clear moral comeuppance—prison, death, marriage to Agnes Moorehead. Audiences still need their penance to be resounding—otherwise, well otherwise we might have a willy-nilly society that cheats their members out of large amounts of money simply because they can. Wait. That’s exactly what has happened/happens. But we don’t want to see that. That’s too real.

Okay, perhaps I should calm down now but it pisses me off when a courageous filmmaker like Martin Scorsese dares to take his country to task--to depict the downward spiral we are in and to warn that we only need look to the past to see where that ends up—that he should be besmirched because of it. It happened lastyear with Kathryn Bigelow and Zero Dark Thirty. What blind morons.

This film is right up there with The Social Network, capturing a time, place, feeling—so effectively—it’s simultaneously hilarious and painful.

Leonardo DiCaprio has been reliable in delivering exceptional performances this past decade and being overlooked for his gifts. Here he has never been more adventurous, defying any and all need to make his character “likeable,” he, in turn, makes him palpable. You may not want to be Jordan but you want to be his friend. And you want to live in his world. And you want to marry his wife. And…well, you get the point. That is until you realize what he really is. And how he got there. He’s not real. He’s manufactured by the original bullshit machine.

Experience this film on the big screen so you can indulge in three hours in the life of a man that made the mistake of following the American Dream, down the rabbit hole and into Dante’s Inferno. And the great time he had doing it. Go with someone so you can then go out to a diner and have some of the best conversation of your life.

2. 12 Years a Slave

Steve McQueen has made two other feature films, Shame and Hunger, both brilliant works. Now, he gives us his richest cinematic offering to date. McQueen works from an insightful and unsparing script by John Ridley, which is based on the autobiography of Solomon Northup. He’s assembled a group of astonishing actors led by the heartbreaking Chiwitel Ejiofor and featuring his muse of sorts, Michael Fassbender, in a deeply enigmatic turn that redefines the slave owner in cinematic history.

McQueen doesn’t bother holding back the brutality. This is a true horror film. It’s about a time in American history we should never forget. He asks many questions but doesn’t provide pat answers. It’s a remarkable work.

3. Gravity

The most enveloping, visceral and sublime filmic experience of the year is watching Gravity in Imax 3-D. The film is a technical marvel with masterful visual and sound effects as well as exquisite cinematography (by Emmanuel Lubezki) that is thrilling, mesmerizing and downright astonishing. Only one time before was space captured in such a realistic yet magical way and that was Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968.

Our protagonist, Dr. Ryan Stone, is played by Sandra Bullock, who does the best work of her career giving us such a raw and no-bullshit performance that is shocking in it’s honesty. There is nothing overly heroic about Ryan. When we first encounter her, she tells Houston she’s fine although her voice and the subtext in the delivery, say otherwise. Ryan has been damaged by a tragedy and her journey, though fraught with peril, is nothing compared to the pain she has been living with. She’s the kind of hero that we can all relate to because she’s not that standard Hollywood survivor who has this great will to persevere--quite the opposite, as a matter of fact, making her all the more real.

Director Alfonso Cuaron won me over with his seminal pic, Y Tu Mamá También in 2001. He directed the extraordinary Children of Men in 2006. With Gravity, he sets such a high bar for what can be done in the motion picture medium that it is safe to use the overused word ‘groundbreaking.’

4. Nebraska

Nebraska is pleasurable tonic in a year filled with mindless or broad comedies that bombard the senses. Here the jolt comes from just how funny a movie can be when it doesn’t try so hard and presents fascinating characters in off-kilter situations--then deals with it all in a very real way. It’s a road movie of sorts, a family dramedy, and a look at a Midwest that is disappearing and morphing. It is a lovely picture postcard album of a country. It is also a harsh comment on the bill-of-goods our citizens were sold and how it imbeds itself into your being.

I’ve had the hardest time describing this film to people. No matter what comes out of my mouth it just doesn’t sound interested and yet, it’s one of the most satisfying films of the year. Just go see it!

5. Blue Jasmine

Woody Allen uses Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire as a template for his absorbing and affecting new film, Blue Jasmine, but doesn’t feel the need to follow the plot too faithfully. The results are a timely, invigorating work that explores the excesses of the one-percent and boasts a remarkable, tour-de-force performance by the uber-gifted Cate Blanchett. Woody modernizes Streetcar, then Woodyizes it and then allows Ms. Blanchett and the magnificent ensemble to bring their tremendous talents to the table—giving them free reign to interpret his terrific screenplay (one of his finest and most economic) their way but capturing it his way.

Blanchett channels her stage Blanche as well as Vivien Leigh (and actually sounds like her in some scenes) but gives her a multi-faceted survivor’s edge. This Blanche may want to depend on the kindness of strangers but she will, if needs be, exorcise demons and give it a go solo. And even in the film’s fitting, if crushing, ending, there is still hope for this strong, messy woman.

6. The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza)

With his sixth feature film, Paolo Sorrentino has fashioned a Rome that reeks of today—warts and all--and that includes the growing financial mess, increasing political confusion (if you can imagine Italian politics getting any more confusing), spiritual psychosis, sexual sterility, wasted talent and the city’s eternal magnificence, despite all the madness—sacred and profane.

Paying homage to Federico Fellini’s Roma, La Dolce Vita and 8 ½ as well as other personal filmmakers (Scola, Bergman and even Bunuel came to mind), but giving it his own Sorrentinian stamp and spin, The Great Beauty is a passionate, glorious, grand and glossy valentine to Rome and all it’s complexities, paradoxes and bizarreness.

The Great Beauty is one of the most delightfully entertaining, visually sumptuous and smartly written motion pictures of 2013 and helming it is a bold visionary who is making an important mark on European cinema.

7. Captain Phillips

Tom Hanks and director Paul Greengrass accomplish career-best work with this true tale of avarice and arrogance on the high seas. Written with great care by Billy Ray, the movie chronicles the infamous 2009 hijacking of a U.S. container ship by Somali pirates.

We’ve come to expect the depiction of courage and grit in films about survival. What we rarely get to see is the true terror, confusion and humanity that must usually take a backseat to entertainment. Tom Hanks gives us that gift in Captain Phillips. And Greengrass secures his place among the best fillmmakers working today.

8. Inside Llewyn Davis

The latest celluloid creation spawned from the bizarre, treasured heads of the Coen Brothers left me positively giddy, a tad bewildered yet wishing I didn’t have to leave the world they so delicately and meticulously created—not after only 105 minutes.

I adored this anti-hero—even with all his legion of idiosyncrasies, faults and eccentricities. I loved his sarcastic responses and his semi-bumbling ways, his neuroses and his ability to kick his foot so far up into his mouth, it’s a wonder he can sing at times! The paradoxical nature of the character and the fact that we care so much (I did anyway) is, in large part, a tribute to the acting talents of Oscar Isaac. This is that proverbial star-making turn. Isaac makes Llewyn vital, despite the character’s self-destructive nature.

Bravo to the Coens for introducing folk music to a new generation and keeping things oddly fabulous.

9. August: Osage County

I thoroughly appreciated this bitter family comedy and I would be shocked to find an American who didn’t find some of it relatable. Of course, nothing blows up and there are no extended fights scenes, so most straight male critics will immediately be turned off.

Tracy Letts adapts his Pulitzer Prize winning play into a tour de force actor’s showcase. And director John Wells simply gets out of the way and let’s the formidable ensemble do what they do best. Meryl Streep is at her finest as the pill-popping, acerbic matriarch, Violet, whose abrasiveness masks true pain and heartache. Julia Roberts has her best role in years and proves Erin Brockovich was no fluke. She’s just a mess of emotional baggage amassed via her passive/aggressive parents, estranged sibs, philandering husband and surly daughter. The others, including a terrific Julianne Nicholson, all shine.

I loved the play, which I saw twice on Broadway. The film works well on it’s own. Letts and Wells have smartly drawn focus on mom and her three daughters creating an explosive family dynamic that is joyous, disturbing and unnerving—just like most holiday gatherings!

10. her

Enchanting, frightening and prescient (the overused capturing the zeitgeist could work here), Spike Jonze’s love story between a geeky man and his operating system is a true gem that may just speak a little too much to all those many men out there who spend most of their time playing online games in their basement—when they’re not whacking off to cyber porn. Just sayin’.

The director of the groundbreaking, Being John Malkovich (1999), this time is also responsibly for the truly intelligent, timely and original screenplay. This film is funny, daring and, at it’s core, a love story—just not a typical one. Not yet, anyway.

Joaquin Phoenix is the sensitive, flesh-and-blood neo-nerd relates more to a cyber creation than real girls. And Scarlett Johansson’s voice-only performance stupefies in how she manages to create a complicated character without us ever needing (or being able) to see her.

So much to absorb in one sitting, I honestly cannot wait to see her again. I get the feeling it may just rise up this list once that happens. There will be profundity.

11. Blue is the Warmest Color

Imagine, a 3-hour epic that is extremely intimate (contradiction?) and deals with sex and sexuality in an honest and truly revealing manner? Well, we know it can’t be an American made film. French director Abdellatif Kechicke boldly examines what it means to be different in this world. He and his co-screenwriter, Ghalya Lacroix, ask questions like: Can we overcome our nature and nurture burdens and actually become something wholly unique? Or are we at the mercy of chance when it comes to who we love--are attracted to?

So much to admire about this film—the mood, the feel, the colors, the fluidity of the camerawork, the intelligent script, the sexiness and tenderness of the love scenes--and the ending. Finally, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux deliver two of the most mesmerizing performances of the year.

12. American Hustle

I do like this film. A lot. It feels like a hodgepodge mess—but I think that might be the point. It’s set in the 70s, the messiest of decades. It’s about reinvention after you’ve fucked up. It’s loosely based on the Abscam scandal in NJ (a mess of a state, I can say that I live there). It’s slick, clever--in a way that calls attention to it’s own cleverness—a David O. Russell signature. The film borrows liberally from Scorsese (particularly Goodfellas). Much of the design feels rightly over the top (costumes, art direction, camerawork). And the ensemble is near perfect with Christian Bale unrecognizably smarmy and oh, so good and Amy Adams doing restrained, potent work. Bradley Cooper should only work with Russell since that director brings out the best in him. Jeremy Renner rocks as well (although he’s about as Italian as I am Irish). But it’s Jennifer Lawrence’s spitfire turn that truly steals the film. She’s dynamite and raises the stakes in every scene she’s in.

13. Saving Mr. Banks

This one was complicated for me. Simply taken as a movie, John Lee Hancock’s “true” tale of how Walt Disney finally got P.L. Travers to sign over the rights to Mary Poppins is an enchanting work. Emma Thompson’s rich performance anchors the film, which does it’s best to give us the backstory behind Travers’s unwavering desire to not have her stories Disneyfied. And Hanks is just a sweet and slightly cunning Disney. I appreciate the redemptive themes and the need for both figures to honor their fathers.

The problem is that if you scratch a bit deeper the film disparages a celebrated author who had every right to not want to have her novels bastardized. The film presents Travers as the villain and Disney and his team as the heroes (and anyone who’s read anything about Uncle Walt knows that he was far from perfect—I won’t mention HUAC—oops, I just did.) Thanks to Emma, we do get some nuance, but more could have made for absolute magic (which Disney gets completely right in Frozen) and a balanced portrait.

Still, I applaud this film for entertaining and moving me—for it’s idealism. Oh, and I just watched the new Mary Poppins blu-ray and while the film is just lovely and the songs are terrific, the animation is questionable and feels unnecessary. Score one for Mrs. Travers, smirking from the grave, I’m sure!

Runners-Up

Frozen

The Past

The Dallas Buyers Club

Before Midnight

Short Term 12

Kill Your Darlings

Philomena

Rush

Fruitvale Station

The Hunt

Stories We Tell

The Broken Circle Breakdown

All is Lost

The Fifth Estate

Mud

Honorable Mention: (alphabetically)

The Attack

The Book Thief

The Company You Keep

Elektric Children

Enough Said

Frances Ha

The Great Gatsby

How I Live Now

Lone Survivor

The Place Beyond the Pines

Reality

The Spectacular Now

The Square

20 Feet From Stardom

Favorite Directorial Achievements:

1. Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street

2. Steve McQueen for 12 years a Slave

3. Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity

4. Paolo Sorrentino for The Great Beauty

5. Alexander Payne for Nebraska

Runners-Up:

Woody Allen for Blue Jasmine

Paul Greengrass for Captain Phillips

Spike Jonze for her

Joel & Ethan Coen for Inside Llewyn Davis

Ryan Coogler for Fruitvale Station

Favorite Lead Actress:

1. Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine

2. Meryl Streep in August: Osage County

3. Berenice Bejo in The Past

4. Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks

5. Sandra Bullock in Gravity

Runners-Up:

Judi Dench in Philomena

Brie Larson in Short Term 12

Adele Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Color

Saoirse Ronan in How I Live Now

Amy Adams in American Hustle

Favorite Lead Actor:

1. Leonardo DiCaprio in Wolf of Wall Street

2. Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis

3. Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave

4. Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club

5. Robert Redford in All is Lost

Runners-Up:

Bruce Dern in Nebraska

Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips

Joaquin Phoenix in her

Christian Bale in American Hustle & Out of the Furnace

Mads Mikkelsen in The Hunt

Chris Hemsworth in Rush

Favorite Supporting Actress

1. Julia Roberts in August: Osage County

2. Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle

3. Margot Robbie in The Wolf of Wall Street

4. Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave

5. June Squibb in Nebraska

Runners-Up:

Lea Seydoux in Blue is the Warmest Color

Emily Watson in The Book Thief

Oprah Winfrey in Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Julianne Nicholson in August: Osage County

Carey Mulligan in Inside Llewyn Davis

Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine

Favorite Supporting Actor

1. Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave

2. Jared Leto in The Dallas Buyer’s Club

3. Daniel Bruhl in Rush

4. Bradley Cooper in American Hustle

5. Dane DeHaan in Kill Your Darlings

Runners-Up:

Matthew McConaughey in Mud & The Wolf of Wall Street

Chris Cooper in August: Osage County

Sam Rockwell in The Way Way Back

Ryan Gosling in The Place Behind the Pines

Jonah Hill in Wolf of Wall Street

James Gandolfini in Enough Said

Favorite Voice-Only Film Performance

Scarlett Johansson in her

Runner Up

Kristen Bell in Frozen

Favorite Original Screenplay

1. Blue Jasmine by Woody Allen

2. Nebraska by Bob Nelson

3. her by Spike Jonze

4. Inside Llewyn Davis by Joel & Ethan Coen

5. Kill Your Darlings by Austin Bunn & John Krokidas

Runners-Up:

The Great Beauty by Paolo Sorrentino & Umberto Conarello

American Hustle by David O. Russell & Eric Singer

Short Term 12 by Destin Cretton

The Past by Asghar Farhadi

Gravity by Alfonso Cuaron & Jonas Cuaron

Saving Mr. Banks by Kelly Marcel & Sue Smith

Favorite Adapted Screenplays

1. The Wolf of Wall Street by Terence Winter

2. 12 Years a Slave by John Ridley

3. Captain Phillips by Billy Ray

4. August: Osage County by Tracy Letts

5. Blue is the Warmest Color by Abdellatif Kechiche & Ghalla Lacroix

Runners-Up:

Philomena by Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope

Before Midnight by Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke & Richard Linklater

Frozen by Jennifer Lee

The Fifth Estate by Josh Singer

Favorite Foreign-Language Films

1. The Great Beauty—Italy

2. Blue is the Warmest Color—France

3. The Past—Iran

4. The Hunt—Denmark

5. The Broken Circle Breakdown—Belgium

Runner-up

Reality--Italy

Favorite Documentaries

1. Stories We Tell

2. The Square

3. 20 Feet from Stardom

4. The Act of Killing

5. The Missing Picture

Runner-up: At Berkeley

Five Least Favorite Films of 2013

As much as I don’t like to dwell on the negative, these films just pissed me off!

Only God Forgives

The Hangover Part 3

GBF

Child of God (unreleased so far and let it stay that way!)

Last Days on Mars

Dishonorable Mention

Parkland (simply pointless)

Five Favorite Unreleased Films--all (hopefully) coming out in 2014

Stranger By the Lake—would have easily made my Top 13. See below.

The Immigrant—Marion Cotillard & Joaquin Phoenix—powerful stuff.

Only Lovers Left Alive—Tilda Swinton & Tom Hiddleston—ditto!

Jealousy—Intense Scenes from a Non-Marriage via French auteur Philippe Garrel.

Floating Skyscrapers—see Best Gay Films below.

The Best—Gay Films

As I did last year, I’d like to single out the Best in GAY films from this past year. Some of these are available on DVD/Blu-Ray or are in theatres/coming soon. Others are still traveling the Festival route but will soon, hopefully, be available. SEEK THEM OUT.

I am not including Dallas Buyers Club, which has a central gay character but does not have a central gay story—if I had, it would be in the Top 5.

Honorable Mentions to:

Beyond the Walls—see it for twink Matila Malliarakis’s riveting performance.Geography Club—slick empowering message film about gay teens.

I Am Divine—informative, entertaining doc about the fringe superstar.

Interior. Leather Bar—James Franco & Travis Matthews take on Cruising.

The Last Match—taboo gay love and repression in impoverished Cuba.

Last Summer—a poetic, magnetic take on the last summer in a gay relationship.

Monster Pies—devastating, absorbing gem of a coming out movie.

Pit Stop—mosaic-like chronicle of love loneliness and longing.

The Rugby Player—inspirational tribute to an unlikely hero.

Solo—Argentinian LaBute-esque piece with a few shocks and twists.

Southern Baptist Sissies—filmed version of Del Shore’s powerhouse play.

Top 10 Favorite Gay Films

10. Test—Chris Mason Johnson’s engaging period (mid-80s) drama captures the anxiety-ridden time when AIDS was just starting to spread.

9. Free Fall—An angst-ridden, moody spin on an oft-told tale. Stephan Lacant’s gorgeous German film soars thanks to the two central performances.

8. In Bloom—Affecting and poignant indie by Chris Michael Birkmeier that looks into the ultimate demise of a relationship. Kyle Wigent shows great promise as Kurt—it’s a subtle yet fierce turn.

7. Five Dances—A welcome tonic, Alan Brown’s exquisite film uses dance as a way inside the psyche’s of his characters. And it doesn’t hurt to have a gorgeous and talented protag, Ryan Steele, leading the kick-ass ensemble.

6. Out in the Dark—Michael Mayer’s Israeli/Palestinian love story is also an involving thriller. Nicholas Jacob and Michael Aloni keep us transfixed.

5. Getting Go: The Go Doc Project—A genre-blend of documentary, gay fiction and Warholian homage, Cory Krueckeberg creates a provocative, bewitching cinematic treat.

4. Floating Skyscrapers—From Poland, Tomasz Wasilewski’s alienating yet enticing film where capitulation and subjugation is imperative for survival. The film contains a shocking climax you will not soon forget.

3. Kill Your Darlings—Daniel Radcliffe is Allen Ginsberg in this notorious true tale of a homicide involving some of the key Beat Gen figures that also delves into the dangers of being homosexual in the 40s. Great cast, with Dane DeHaan making the biggest impression in a pic of big impressions.

2. Blue is the Warmest Color—Bracingly honest, raw film that is as emotionally stimulating as it is intellectually.

1. Stranger By the Lake—Certainly one of the most audacious cinematic experiences of the last few years, Alain Guiraudie’s portrait of the obsessive/compulsive desires of gay men is downright profound. Sure, it’s titillating but it’s also disquieting in it’s penetrating honesty. True courageous filmmaking.

The Best of TV 2013

Favorite TV Movie:

Behind the Candelabra—not much competition. A terrific over-the-top gay love story by master Steven Soderbergh. Retire? Don’t you dare!

Guilty Pleasures

The Graham Norton Show

Once Upon a Time

Survivor

Revenge

Boardwalk Empire (so much brilliance, so much tedium, so much violence, too much WTF?)

Runners-Up

Bates Motel—Vera Farmiga raised this show to fascinatingly spooky heights.

Girls—mostly for the Patrick Wilson episode.

Nashville—the great songs put Glee to shame and Connie Britten and Hayden Panettiere continue to define great Diva acting (along with Madeline Stowe in Revenge)

Orange is the New Black—Netflix is apparently the new AMC with this enthralling series.

Real Time with Bill Maher—love him or loathe him (and I love him—even when I really don’t agree with him), he’s always funny, always provocative and always, despite his denials, a little gay.

Scandal—a great ride with classic Shonda Rimes dialogue great female performances. Most notably the extraordinary Kerry Washington, the underrated Bellamy Young and grande dame Kate Burton. —just keeps getting more and more outrageous!

Top 13 Favorite TV Shows

13. Veep—only got better with Season 2. Great ensemble. Smart, savvy, nastily satiric—all my favorite things.

12. Breaking Bad—a disappointing finale (I know, calm down) but still an amazing wrap to one of the most astonishing shows ever conceived.

11. Nurse Jackie—remains the best comedy on TV with Falco continuing her nuanced, who-gives-a-shit-about-likeability work.

10. The Killing—the execution episode alone makes this among the bleakest and most powerful shows on TV. Sure it’s a hard sit but so worth it. And thanks to NETFLIX it will be back (shame on you AMC!)

9. House of Cards—took a few episodes to really get into it, but what a ride once I did. Spacey’s best work in over a decade. Robin Wright’s performance is the definition of fascinating. And Corey Stoll is sooooo goooood.

8. Ray Donovan—a surprisingly potent new Showtime entry (watch out HBO!) with some great work by Liev Schreiber, Jon Voight and the underrated Dash Mihok. Ballsy in it’s taking on the Catholic sex abuse scandal and not compromising.

7. Orphan Black—Holy cow was I gobsmacked by this BBC America offering. Binge-watch this show now. DO NOT READ ANYTHING ABOUT IT. Just do it. You will thank me.

6. Downton Abbey—So much death! So much drama! And Shirley MacLaine goes tet-a-tet with Maggie Smith. What more could one ask for?

5. Mad Men—still going strong in Season 6 with a startling finale. This show has never won any Emmys in any of the 4 major acting categories, which is a crime. The reunion scenes between Jon Hamm and January Jones alone deserve Emmys for both actors.

4. Game of Thrones—the most mesmerizing show of the year with that one memorable episode that will never be forgotten but my favorite moment was the very last scene of the season finale. Kalissi reigns supreme (I hope!)

3. Masters of Sex—easily the best new TV show of 2013, this show dares to investigate sex and all its many facets. Michael Sheen and Lizzy Kaplan lead a wonderful cast. Allison Janney does heartbreaking work here. And the writers are to be commended for their keeping the show grounded in puritanical America of yesterday but making the show deliciously timely as well. Way to go Showtime!

2. American Horror Story: Coven—I liked Asylum a lot (and I realize many found it unsatisfying) but Coven takes things to even more exciting levels. And where else can you find three female stars over 50 doing such great work? Hats off to Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett. And, to Ryan Murphy for continuously pushing envelopes and employing great divas.

1. The Newsroom—proving it’s the most intelligent, astute, sharp—heck, it’s simply the BEST hour on TV. Jeff Daniels leads the hardest working ensemble in the medium. And the Jane Fonda scene where she refuses to accept resignations is simply as good as it gets. Get this legend a guest Emmy pronto! Get her a spin-off! And keep this show going. Aaron Sorkin seems to truly care about what is going on in our rapidly changing, terrifying world—and that puts him ahead of most.

ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATION PREDICTIONS

As has happened in the past few years, Oscar prognosticators are scrambling to create buzz for certain films—probably to insure daily visits to their respective sites (I get it—everyone needs to eat). As I write this it is a few days after Christmas (although I started it a week ago and then got hit with the flu), and, I find it fascinating that there’s discussion out there predicting this year’s Best Picture winner that is based on Argo’s win last year—when last year that win was clearly seen as an anomaly. Now, because of the whims of some bloggers, it’s how we find this year’s winner? C’mon!

12 Years a Slave has been and is still the front-runner with Gravity playing Avatar to 12 Years’ Hurt Locker. Sure, there’s talk surrounding American Hustle, but I believe that’s more based on the NY Critics choosing it as Best Picture (and losing a LOT of credibility in the process). Hey, I liked the movie. It’s in my Top 13, but it’s certainly not anything that special—especially compared to some of the other films in the running. But let me try and take my own personal feelings out, for now (practically impossible). Why is David O. Russell all of a sudden in the company of Martin Scorsese and considered “due” for a win? Because he was nominated twice before? People need to redefine their definition of the word, “due.” Robert Altman was due and he never won. So was Sidney Lumet! Alan J. Pakula, anyone? These were true filmmaking masters who never WON an Oscar. When Russell makes a Nashville or Network or Sophie’s Choice, then we can talk “due.”

Oh was there ever a more “due” artist than the late, great Peter O’Toole? With nominations for Lawrence of Arabia, Beckett, The Lion in Winter, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, The Ruling Class, The Stunt Man, My Favorite Year and Venus, he failed to win one Oscar. Look at those films again and you will realize he should have at least three! Due, indeed!

I’ve spoken to many people (including a few SAG members) who like American Hustle but could not get too excited about it. People were excited about Argo and The Artist (not sure why). People loved The King’s Speech. That’s why it defeated the far superior Social Network. I have no idea where this perceived love for American Hustle is coming from. Critics seem to be loving her a lot more.

And comparing it to Argo feels off. Firstly, Zero Dark Thirty’s smear campaign was a huge factor in many jumping ship and selecting a less controversial film. And so was Ben Affleck’s being overlooked for a nomination for Best Director. That seemed to synch the film’s fate with voters. In addition, the film was a great ride. I was at the all-media screening at the Grove last year and you could feel the rush in the room. So if any film is this year’s Argo, it’s probably Gravity.

But you know what? Maybe American Hustle is that mild, safe film that does have what it takes to go the distance. Especially now with the Best Picture voting the way it is—extreme films have very little chance of winning and it’s the one’s that are liked and not necessarily loved that usually take it. I just don’t see it happening unless there’s some groundswell for Russell or a backlash against 12 Years.

In addition, many of the progs seem to be relying on critical hosannas to crystal ball us with what is up and down each Oscar week (‘As Her rises August takes a fall,’ was the headline on one site once the reviews were in) but I don’t truly think that the critics have much to say to AMPAS voters--and that’s not necessarily a good thing—although I am a major defender of August: Osage County.

One of the major sites even has a pop-up that reads: “Attention all AMPAS and Guild Members, TALK TO US, Click here to give us your contact info and to get key (site) updates!” They do it in the guise that they are looking to send newsletter updates about “special screenings and industry news.” The veiled reason, it can only be assumed, is to make sure members visit their site so they know what the consensus is—read: to try and sway them on how to vote. I don’t think that’s such a leap and I find it pretty arrogant but Pandora’s Awardsblogbox was opened a while ago and now anything, it seems, goes.

We all read the tealeaves in different ways, but can bloggers really impact the race? Hard to say. The better bloggers, like Sasha Stone at AwardsDaily.com, keep films she sees as worthy in the conversation. That can have an impact. Others seem to simply be blogging as a form of self-promotion. “Look at how good I am at predicting the Oscars. Look, I was singlehandedly responsible for Emmanuel Riva’s nomination.” Bully for you! I’m sure Marion Cotillard is thrilled. As is your operating system girlfriend.

But no matter how much those of us that love The Wolf of Wall Street champion the masterpiece, it’s the fidgety curmudgeons in the Academy who will decide (and apparently they’re loving it and hating it). If there was any justice, it would sweep the nominations and come Oscar night, Scorsese would have his second Best Director Oscar and Leo would have his first—LONG OVERDUE—Best Actor trophy. But that scenario is pure fantasy. Crash over Brokeback, King’s Speech over Social Network and Argo over Zero Dark have taught me to not dream so big. The most I can hope for is McQueen winning his first Oscar and 12 Years a Slave grabbing Best Picture. I’m more than fine with that. Anything else might suck.

And now my Oscar predictions in the 8 major categories:

Best Screenplay

Historically this is where foreign films land so don’t be surprised to see The Past, The Great Beauty or even Blue is the Warmest Color pop up. I am, pretty much, going with the flow here.

Oddly, Original is much more competitive than Adapted.

Last year I did not predict screenplay nominations.

Best Original Screenplay Final Predictions

American Hustle by David O. Russell & Eric Singer

Nebraska by Bob Nelson

Blue Jasmine by Woody Allen

Her by Spike Jonze

Inside Llewyn Davis by Joel & Ethan Coen

Potential Spoilers:

Fruitvale Station by Ryan Coogler

Gravity by Alfonso Cuaron & Jonas Cuaron

Enough Said by Nicole Holofcener

The Great Beauty by Paolo Sorrentino & Umberto Conarello

Best Adapted Screenplay Final Predictions

12 Years a Slave by John Ridley

Captain Phillips by Billy Ray

August: Osage County by Tracy Letts

Wolf of Wall Street by Terence Winter

Philomena by Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope

Potential Spoilers:

Before Midnight by Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke & Richard Linklater

Blue is the Warmest Color by Abdellatif Kechiche & Ghalla Lacroix

Best Supporting Actor:

Finally Michael Fassbender will receive a nomination. This should be his third. And he should win, but most of the early (albeit critics) awards have gone to Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club). Not really getting this except that Leto plays an overly sympathetic character whereas with Fassbender in 12 Years, you have to do some work to empathize, but if you do, you can see how amazing the portrayal truly is. James Gandolfini may get in because he did terrific work in Enough Said, and, because he’s no longer with us. Will voters nominate both Bradley Cooper and J-Law two years in a row for a David O. Russell film?

And look out for a potential John Goodman (Inside Llewyn Davis) surprise nomination simply because he’s never been tapped before.

Last year: I got 4 out of 5 correct. I missed the eventual winner, Christof Waltz, thinking Leo would get in instead! Who knew?

Best Supporting Actor Final predictions

Jared Leto in The Dallas Buyer’s Club

Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave

Daniel Bruhl in Rush

Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips

Bradley Cooper in American Hustle

Possible spoilers:

James Gandolfini in Enough Said

Jonah Hill in Wolf of Wall Street

James Franco in Spring Breakers

Best Supporting Actress:

Both Lupita Nyong’o and J-Law are locks. Can’t imagine Squibb not making the list. And though Oprah got no love from the Globes, she will get a nomination (and I think, the win). That leaves Roberts vulnerable, but I just can’t see her losing out. Although she is lead, there seems to be no real controversy like the stink Academy members made with Kate Winslet in The Reader in 2008 (nominating her in Lead for that performance and snubbing the best work she’s ever done—in Revolutionary Road in the process). Bottom line, like Best Actress--this quintet is hard to break up—and that usually means that one will be left out. If that happens, it could be Johansson who makes Academy history but a long shot is Sarah Paulson riding the 12 Years love. In a perfect world, Margot Robbie would get in for her mesmerizing work in The Wolf of Wall Street.

Last year I got 4 out of 5 correct. And, really, who predicted Jacki

Weaver would ride the Silver Linings Playbook wave??

Best Supporting Actress Final predictions

Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave

Oprah Winfrey in Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle

Julia Roberts in August: Osage County

June Squibb in Nebraska

Possible spoilers:

Scarlett Johansson in her

Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine

Octavia Spencer in Fruitvale Station

Best Lead Actress

The same five are bandied about over and over and the same three are mentioned as dark horses. The only thing I know for certain is that Cate Blanchett will win.

Last year I got 4 out of 5. Missed Quvenzhane’.

Best Lead Actress Final Predictions

Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine

Sandra Bullock in Gravity

Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks

Meryl Streep in August: Osage County

Judi Dench in Philomena

Possible Spoilers:

Amy Adams in American Hustle

Brie Larson in Short Term 12

Adele Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Color

Best Lead Actor:

Yikes, is this a ridiculously crowded field. Five names are coming up over and over again but two other names are just as strongly in the race. Anything can happen in a year where Redford is overlooked by SAG, Whitaker is snubbed by the Hollywood Foreign Press and Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t present on many of the pre-curser lists (although, Wolf was released quite late in the game).

This is DiCaprio’s best performance in a career of bests (that have often been snubbed by AMPAS) and if—a big if--he is nominated could he FINALLY win? Am I delusional? Sentiment is certainly is on both Redford’s and Dern’s side (both 77)—IF they’re nominated. At this point the only sure thing is Ejiofor. Oy!

I am going with my gut (or is it a fervent prayer?) and predicting Leo will inch out Hanks. Why? Call me a cockeyed optimist. Still. Do I really believe Hanks will not be nommed? No, but I’m not sure who else to squash. This is where the Academy should allow for more than five.

Last year, I got 4 out of 5 correct (you see a pattern?) missing Denzel Washington.

Best Lead Actor Final Predictions

Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave

Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club

Robert Redford in All is Lost

Bruce Dern in Nebraska

Leonardo DiCaprio in Wolf of Wall Street

Possible Spoilers:

Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips

Forest Whitaker in Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Joaquin Phoenix in her

Christian Bale in American Hustle

Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis

Idris Elba in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Best Achievement in Direction

Martin Scorsese directed the boldest, ballsiest film of the year so chances are he will not be nominated. Sorry, but the Academy usually frowns on audacity and daring. And when they nominate such directors (Fincher) they refuse to actually award him. Scorsese has an outside chance but I’m guessing Payne will take his place—certainly, an excellent choice. Personally, I don’t get the Russell love. He has no directorial style to speak of except to appropriate others (and then not even make it his own the way Tarantino does!). I like his films but...

McQueen should be the victor.

Last year I got 2 out of 5, in a year where the Director’s branch’s wonky choices (and that’s my opinion) rattled everything (not necessarily a bad thing but no Kathryn Bigelow is simply unforgivable!) and made way for an Ang Lee upset. Some appreciated it. Some were outraged. And some just couldn’t bring themselves to care. The sad thing is that the great Steven Spielberg fell victim to a very screwy turn of events. Anything can happen.

Best Direction Final Predictions

Steve McQueen for 12 years a Slave

Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity

David O. Russell for American Hustle

Alexander Payne for Nebraska

Paul Greengrass for Captain Phillips

Possible Spoilers:

Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street

Spike Jonze for her

Joel & Ethan Coen for Inside Llewyn Davis

Ryan Coogler for Fruitvale Station

Woody Allen for Blue Jasmine

Best Picture of 2013

Anywhere from 5 to 10 movies might make the cut. Since the rule change, nine have made it every year making that the magic number for many. I will still predict ten, because it’s such a banner year and there’s enough room for passion about no less than twenty films. And don’t let the seeming-confidence of a slew of the progs fool you, this is not an easy call after the first three.

Do not underestimate films like Philomena, August: Osage County, Fruitvale Station and Dallas Buyers Club. Sometimes the AMPAS darling is not even close to the critic’s darling (Extremely What? and Incredibly Forgotten, much?) Overestimating her or Llewyn or All is Lost can also be a mistake, although I think at least one of those will make it.

Finally, always take The Weinstein Company films seriously (the last 2 on my list).

Last year I got 8 out of 9, missing Amour.

Best Picture Final Predictions

12 Years a Slave

Gravity

American Hustle

Captain Phillips

Nebraska

Inside Llewyn Davis

The Wolf of Wall Street

Dallas Buyers Club

The Butler

Philomena

Potential Spoilers:

August: Osage County

Her

Saving Mr. Banks

Blue Jasmine

All is Lost

Fruitvale Station

Rush

 

 

 

 

 

 


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