Random Thoughts

Criticisms from the Couch: Dan’s Top 8 Movies of 2013

By Dan Leyendecker

        Already two months into 2014 with Sochi, True Detective, and a big shake-up on late night network television, Kyle graciously let me dive into my favorite films of the last year. Oscar Day is still a few days away, so let’s just assume this list is still somehow relevant. I’ve enjoyed talking about this year in movies with friends and family, but Kyle convinced me to throw some of my unreliable opinions out into the world.
I can’t tell if I’ve been looking for meaning in movies, whether I’m in a particularly well-targeted demographic, or if 2013 was just a quality year. Maybe in scribbling my thoughts down, I can finally get some of the films off my mind.
Disclaimer: I have not seen TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE, BLUE JASMINE or some of the other top movies that will be heavy hitters on Oscar Day. My Netflix queue is backed up. Second disclaimer: I haven’t written in a while, so bear with me as I shake the dust off. Spoilers ahead.

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8. AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS
This trailer grabbed my attention in the middle of last year; I remember posting it on Facebook and Kyle immediately texting me. He knows the kind of stuff I’m drawn to–the description attached to the SAINTS trailer promised a 1970s crime drama in the Texas Hill Country and a love triangle with three charismatic leads. Also, that title sounded like something ripped straight out of an old blues song or hymnal. Yup, this felt like my jam.
The director, David Lowery, caught some flak from the critics for emulating his apparent hero, Terrence Malick. The movie features lots of magic-hour vistas and long shots of sprightly women walking dreamily through amber waves of grain, but Lowery grounds these tropes with a strong human story and crackling action. So while the movie takes a leisurely pace, the atmospherics do not overwhelm a good yarn. Casey Affleck plays an obsessive outlaw who veers between heartfelt and unhinged. Rooney Mara, who possesses such an expressive face that she looks like a moving Byzantine icon, succeeds in depicting real strength in what could have been a simple damsel-in-distress role.
But Ben Foster, I think, turns in the most powerful performance. Like Mara, he takes an otherwise stock role, a tortured lawman caught between his passion and sense of ethics. He infuses the role with such humanity that makes him fascinating to watch.
The trio benefits from a great collection of surrounding characters, classic rural characters who love, protect, or want to help our three leads. Go get it.

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7. THE SPECTACULAR NOW
It’s always exciting to feel as if you’ve “found” some new talent, which is what happened when I stumbled upon THE SPECTACULAR NOW. Both Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley give the kind of work that makes you want to see what’s next. Teller owns an effortless charisma that is both weighted down by a deep sadness. His character’s burgeoning alcoholism is played subtly, and never to his or the story’s detriment.
Woodley’s character drew fire by some critics for being an underrepresented, lightly drawn female character, who is simply there to assist Teller’s character on his narrative arc. I think that’s a little lazy — she’s no manic pixie dream girl, and her innocence is an important counterbalance to Teller’s puffery. The ending, in particular, treats her with an appropriate measure of respect.
The SPECTACULAR NOW is also a Southern movie that captures the flavor of its location the right way — unassumingly. No gleaming Mason jars of sweet tea here. I need to look up the writer, because his or her dialogue is perfect in the easy way the characters talk, fight, negotiate, and fall in love with each other. And I realize now, remembering the movie, that I was excited by discovering these gifted actors because they made me feel so deeply for their characters in such a short amount of time. Can’t wait to see what the duo, and their director, James Ponsoldt, get up to next.

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6. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Last November, I’d mentioned to my grandparents that a new Martin Scorsese was coming out that I’d looking forward to. My grandma particularly likes Leo, so it’s understandable that she and my granddad would invite their friends, another elderly, church-going couple, to see the blockbuster that their grandson recommended. Halfway through, probably during the massive debauchery in the airline, the other lady leaned over to my granddad and said, “I think your grandson needs to come to church some more.”
I’ve seen WOLF twice and enjoyed it in two different ways. I watched it the first time on a droll holiday weekend and found the colors (lots of searing yellows, big blues?) and tone unsettling. I guess I had anticipated a little bit more of a cat-and-mouse situation between DiCaprio and Kyle Chandler, who plays the FBI agent that eventually takes Jordan Belfort down. Their showdown on the yacht, in which the two engage in a classic battle of posturing, is probably my favorite scene of 2013. Still, I just couldn’t properly explain the movie afterward, except its over-the-top decadence.
I enjoyed my second watch much more, and I’ve heard others describe the same shift. Instead of trying to figure out what it was all about or the moral implications of the real-life story or its cinematic delivery (all good questions), I let Scorsese take me through something decadent, manic and undeniably weird. WOLF sports a distended structure, manic energy that also feels at once tired, and glossy colors of the mid-90s — actually, is this what the mid-90s was like outside of my backyard? The final scene, in which the camera pans over a completely rapt audience to Belfort, was not only a funny visual joke on the audience but also reflected my state of mind afterwards. Sure, I guess I was being sold to — but wouldn’t it briefly be fun to be the seller?

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5. AMERICAN HUSTLE
Easily my most anticipated movie of 2013. A heist/ensemble/period piece with a director who had just started coming into his own?! I fell in love with the trailer when it came out in the middle of the year and grew so obsessed that I memorized its quotes, beats and cuts. The last time I did that was with the RETURN OF THE KING trailer back in ’03, so you do the math.
Like WOLF, I’ve seen the movie twice and enjoyed it even more so the second time. I first saw the movie over Christmas break with a couple of friends from my hometown — both of them ended up bringing their large families and we essentially took over the small theater. The second time was with a friend at the much-larger Slaughter Lane Drafthouse. Despite the runtime, both camps left in a heady mood.
I wish I knew more about cinematography so that I could pinpoint why I enjoyed the look of this movie so much. I don’t mean the period-specific clothing, hairstyles, etc — in fact, I was relieved that those things didn’t sour into gimmickry — but the actual look and color of the film. It seemed vivid, alive, and crisper than the usual movie. Even the indoor scenes had the quality of a brisk and clear fall day.
The frenetic energy of HUSTLE never detracts from its humanity. It’s clear that David O. Russell has real affection for his characters. Back to my initial obsession with the trailer, real quick — I became fixated on a shot in which Christian Bale’s character, Irving, sits in a sleazy ’70s pool house. There’s a shelf of cheap booze just above him. His eyes are closed and he’s really feeling whatever he’s listening to — in the trailer, the shot is paired with “Good Times, Bad Times” by Led Zeppelin, while the movie it’s Duke Ellington’s “Jeep’s Blues” — he’s fist pumping, his gut is out, and he looks hilariously gross. To me, he looks briefly content, and in a way, noble. Though he uses each character’s foibles for humor, Russell is not nasty or harsh in the way he treats these people. While this is definitely not a “feel-good” movie, I think Russell is much brave for sidestepping the easy cynicism of the subject matter.
A quick rundown of those characters: Bale underplays Irving with moody cool, Amy Adams is electric and, I think, outguns Jennifer Lawrence’s showier performance, while Bradley Cooper never played a better shithead. The supporting cast excels.
Favorite scene: Bale and Adams sit nervously in the Plaza Hotel. It’s a brief moment of quiet after weeks of exhausting double- and triple- crossing. They have one last gamble. Adams says something like, “We’ve got to get over on all these guys. That’s what we need to be thinking about right now.” Bale pauses, collects himself, and then agrees. “It’s gotta be the best we’ve ever done.” Dig it!

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4. BEFORE MIDNIGHT
I’d never seen any of the BEFORE trilogy until 2014, and there is a chance that my love of the first two in the trilogy bumped MIDNIGHT as high it is. While I love Linklater, I had stayed away from the series because I thought the premise sounded a little cheesy and SUNSET was simply off my radar at age 15. More of a DAZED AND CONFUSED era. But MIDNIGHT was getting big reviews, all of my friends whose opinions I respect swear by all three movies, and I decided to tear through each installment over three nights.
Watching Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke age nearly two decades in 72 hours was one of the stranger but enjoyable movie experiences I’ve had. The method added another weird layer to the series’ questions of time. In those three days, I saw two people express their hopes, grapple with circumstances and, finally, fear that they’d become what they hated. Do they even perceive the situation they’re in, and would they even be better off seeing their own arc in 72 hours? At one point Jesse says something like, “I’m still that guy on that train. You’re still the girl who got off of that train with me.” Surely, these intelligent, passionate, alive people could avoid such a fate, but the ending is not clear.
I’m closer to their ages in SUNRISE, and felt a real familiarity with the first two movies. I still “know” Jesse and Celine in MIDNIGHT, but their problems are further off and less immediate. Or maybe not. Either way, I’m not sure if I could handle another chapter in 2022.
BEFORE MIDNIGHT is my number four because Jesse and Celine feel nearer to my close friends instead of characters on screen. They remind me of myself and, if you’re reading this, they probably remind me a lot of you. And that is a magical thing.

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3. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
Odd comparison, but I often think of WINTER’S BONE when I try to recall INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS. The two couldn’t differ more in terms of content, but echoes of Greek tragedy, the washed out blues and grays, and the fact that both are two of my favorites from the ’00s align them in my mind.
For the first 45 minutes or so of LLEWYN DAVIS, I never quite knew where it was going. I enjoyed the beautiful music and crisp depiction of an early ’60s New York winter, but I found myself asking something like, “When’s it going to get weird and more…Coens-y?” Semi-spoilers ahead.
But the road trip to Chicago (at turns spooky, hilarious, and heartbreaking) is one of my favorite things the Coen brothers have ever done. John Goodman shows up just for a bit, but to powerful effect. Llewyn’s meeting with a big recording executive is harrowing in its truthfulness. It was there that I learned what the movie was getting at. Llewyn’s loss of his friend hangs over the whole movie. And on the return trip, in a snowy scene which could have been lifted out of Fargo, cars whoosh past Llewyn like otherworldly creatures. Death is all around. Llewyn feels the loss of his friend more acutely than ever.
Kyle felt that the Coens went too dark by subjecting Llewyn to crueler treatment than necessary. A host of one of my favorite podcasts, Filmspotting, mentioned that this was a story about the loss of not only a creative partner but someone’s other half. He went on to say that surely this must have affected the Coens somehow, as creative a pair of brothers as there has ever been. While the brothers are not gentle to Llewyn, I got the sense that they explored what it would be like to lose a brother. It’s bold in its melancholy.

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2. THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES
I ordered my movies by how much they resonated in 2013. PINES missteps a few times (the same friend who I watched INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS with said that the guy who plays Bradley Cooper’s son should seriously think about never acting again). The RottenTomatoes summary describes the movie perfectly as “ambitious to a fault.”
THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES is the stuff of dreams. Robbing banks. Following a monster down a dark forest road. Exacting revenge on someone who’s wronged you and your family. And best of all, that electric thrill of flying, weightless and solitary. I’m thinking of two scenes here: one from the first act, when Ryan Gosling’s character is shot from above on his motor bike, the road yawning out ahead of him and the trees enveloping all around. His son (played by Dane DeHaan, who more than carries the third act) unknowingly recreates this, as he finally gets closer to the mystery of his dead criminal father and hurtles down the same road on his beloved bike. Both scenes are shot through with a sense of heightened reality, excellent Technicolor thrills that envelop you deeper into this little pocket of America.
While Gosling kind of plays a punker version of himself from DRIVE, he still possesses the charisma and intensity to make the first act the best. It’s a strong enough presence that lasts throughout the whole movie. Ben Mendelsohn is an excellent ne’er do well hermit in the woods. Bradley Cooper plays a straight arrow (still with his own streak of shithead) who struggles with the expectations of his own father. Rose Byrne and Mahershala Ali turn in quality small roles.
Like BEFORE MIDNIGHT, PINES addresses the complexities of time and consequences. When Eva Mendes opens an envelope from her son, to a bent photograph of what was, for an instant, a happy family, you acutely feel each character’s loss. PINES also uses Hall & Oates in an impromptu dance sequence, to great comedic effect, so it’s already an automatic #2. Can’t wait to watch again.

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MUD
I’m sure my friends and family tired of me proselytizing about this movie way, way before 2013 ended. MUD is a modern-day myth set in the swamps and small towns surrounding the Mississippi. By now, everyone is familiar with the “McConaughaissance,” a term that will surely be played out by the time I send this to Kyle, but it’s been thrilling to see Matthew McConaughey go after such bold choices after a while in the rom-com wilderness.
He doesn’t disappoint here. And neither do the two boys who play Ellis and Neckbone (“That’s a hell of a name, son”), characters drawn with influences from Mark Twain, STAND BY ME and other adventure stories. Ellis is struggling to make sense of his world, which is falling apart due to the tension between his parents (the excellent Ray McKinnon and Sarah Paulson). In this fractured sense of growing up, he befriends Mud, a drifter who is a little bit childlike, charming, and in very real danger.
I’ve found myself talking a lot about “shots” and the “feel” of a movie, and MUD is at the top of my list because it contains the best of both. A weathered boat in a tree, writhing snakes in a pit, hired killers kneeling down to pray, shirts that supposedly contain magical powers and wide, beautiful vistas of the biggest river in the country. A friend of mine mentioned that he felt as if he were right there in the deltas, along for the adventure. You feel as if you’re in on the adventure.
MUD strikes upon all the good stuff: friendship, love, and growing up, all cast against Southern and Biblical motifs. Jeff Nichols shows an even stronger affection for his characters, and that translated so well to me. I wanted Ellis’s parents to figure out some happiness, I wanted Sam Shepard’s character to re-enter the complicated world. I wanted Ellis to find his way in a suddenly bigger world. I wanted Mud to find some peace.

Breaking Down the 2014 Academy Awards, Kyle Bush Style

This year, as some of you may know, I took a new job and relocated from my home state of Texas to the East Bay of California. It’s certainly been an adjustment for me. I’ve lived in Texas my entire life and Cali is about as different an environment from the Lone Star state as you can get. Being separated from friends and family has been challenging and loneliness has taken a toll from time to time. Now, I’m not here to pander for your sympathy. I mean, manning up and growing a pair of stones is part of becoming an adult. I’m 25 years old for christ’s sake, getting out of your comfort zone is important for your intellectual and spiritual growth right? Anyways, as is often the case when a great change has occurred for me, I’ve taken solace in the comfy confines of the local movie theater more than ever. Lucky for me it’s been an absolute embarrassment of riches this year movie wise and I’ve had the chance to see all of the prestige pictures in the theater for the first time in awhile. I find myself being in a unique position to discuss the Oscar race. So, this being exactly one week until the 86th Academy Awards, I’d like to break down the big categories for my faithful readers and offer my analysis on who’s going to walk home with the coveted gold statues on Hollywood’s biggest night. Please read on dear readers and enjoy.

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The Best Picture Race: (12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, The Wolf of Wall Street)

2013 features one of the strongest groups of films nominated for Best Picture in years. I’ve seen 7, only Nebraska and Philomena remain to be watched, and they all made my top 10 best films of the year list. It was common thought amongst the illuminati of the industry that Steve McQueen’s staggering adaptation of Solomon Northup’s memoir, 12 Years a Slave, was the movie to beat this year for the big prize. Receiving rapturous buzz after its first screening at the Toronto Film Festival, many believed it would coast through awards season to easily capture the gold. It’s been labeled the “Big, Important movie,” providing a harrowing portrait of the slave experience in Ante-Bellum America. Many of you know that oscar voting is a highly political endeavor. Members of the academy would love to honor a challenging film that holds up a mirror to the grave sins of our country’s history. However, I hesitate to call this race quite yet. Alfonso Cuaron’s game changing space odyssey Gravity should not be overlooked. The film event of 2013, Gravity was THE movie to experience at the theater. A stunning achievement of state of the art special effects and technology, this picture was also a gripping survival story. Universally acclaimed by audiences and critics alike, Gravity could be the film that swipes the brass ring this year. Finally, if there is a dark horse candidate this year, don’t forget about David O. Russell’s American Hustle. Based on the Abscam scandal that took place in the 1970’s, this comedy/drama featured the best ensemble cast and was also one of the most flat out entertaining times at the movies this year.

What will win: 12 Years a Slave. The academy will make the big political statement by honoring Steve McQueen’s slavery epic. However, in my opinion, its not the best film of this bunch. Surprisingly it hasn’t stuck with me and wasn’t the emotional gut-punch I was expecting.

What should win: The Wolf of Wall Street. My personal favorite of this crop of films, Scorsese’s portrait of notorious stock broker Jordan Belfort was the wildest, most viciously entertaining movie of the year. Highly controversial, and perhaps misunderstood, Wolf asked tough questions and offered no easy answers.

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The Best Director Race: (Alfonso Cuaron, Steve McQueen, Alexander Payne, David O. Russell, Martin Scorsese)

Alfonso Cuaron owns this category and should be brushing up on his acceptance speech as I type these words. Even though it’s typical for the Academy to honor the director of the film that ultimately goes on to win Best Picture, I foresee a Picture/Director split this year between 12 Years and Gravity. Cuaron undertook a massive challenge with Gravity. Much of the technology needed for the making of the film hadn’t even been developed when it began shooting. The voters love to honor Directors who push the boundaries of film making and Cuaron’s achievement has been hailed as one of the greatest technological feats since 2001: A Space Odyssey. I wouldn’t bet against him.

Who will win: Cuaron. He already should have a Best Director trophy for his masterful work on Children of Men, this will provide vindication from the Academy.

Who should win: Cuaron. However, if I were to chose an alternate, Scorsese did some of his finest, funniest work in years on Wolf of Wall Street. The 71 year old master filmmaker still loves to push the boundaries of decency and court controversy.

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The Best Actor Race: (Christian Bale, Bruce Dern, Leonardo DiCaprio, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthew McConaughey)

Matthew McConaughey is clearly an actor who understands his history. Looking back over the years, there are 3 things that voters love regarding Academy Award winning performances: 1) An actor who portrays a real life person. 2) Playing someone with a debilitating/life threatening illness. 3) Undergoing a shocking real life physical transformation for the role. Check, check, and check. McConaughey’s performance as Ron Woodroof, a cowboy diagnosed HIV positive in the 80’s who became one of the most vocal crusaders against government approved AIDs treatment, was certainly a revelation. On a big time resurgence as of late, McConaughey reaches the pinnacle of his career with this role. It would be a shock if he went home empty handed next week. Hoping to play the spoiler, former front-runner Chiwetel Ejiofor may surprise if it turns out to be 12 Years a Slave’s night. Ejiofor’s performance as true life freemen turned slave Solomon Northup is a haunting and deeply moving portrayal. Tightly controlled, his eyes big pools of sorrow, Ejiofor makes you feel every second of his horrific plight onscreen. Don’t count him out.

Who will win: McConaughey. He delivers the best work of his career, both multi-faceted and deeply moving. I don’t see an upset in this category. Bring home the gold for Texas Matt. Hook em.

Who should win: McConaughey. If not him, then DiCaprio, who gives the most complex performance of his career as the aforementioned Jordan Belfort. Charming, funny, and sometimes viciously terrifying, Leo nails every wrinkle of his character. Working with Scorsese always brings out the best in DiCaprio and this may be the crown jewel of their frequent collaborations.

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The Best Actress Race: (Amy Adams, Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Judi Dench, Meryl Steep)

Cate Blanchett’s tour-de-force performance as the title character in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine has been winning raves and collecting accolades since it was released last summer. Making a clean sweep of all the precursor awards, Blanchett is a lock for her second Oscar. I finally got a chance to see Blue Jasmine after I blind bought it the other day at Best Buy and I was stunned by Blanchett’s work. Playing a housewife in the midst of a full blown mental breakdown following the arrest of her Bernie Madoff-esque husband, Blanchett is in a class of her own this year. If anything can derail her hopes, the recent scandal that developed regarding Woody Allen’s alleged rape of his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow when she was a child could be the straw that broke the camels back. I hope and pray the Academy isn’t foolish enough to punish Blanchett because of these allegations.

Who will win: Blanchett. No one else is even close in this category.

Who should win: Blanchett. If by some miracle she loses, than Amy Adams’ sexy portrayal as con woman Sydney Prosser in American Hustle is next on the list. Adams has been doing award caliber work for years and she is an Academy favorite, her time will come very soon.

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The Best Supporting Actor Race: (Barkhad Abdi, Bradley Cooper, Michael Fassbender, Jonah Hill, Jared Leto)

After close to a 5 year hiatus from acting, Jared Leto returned with a bang in Dallas Buyer’s Club. Leto plays Rayon, a drug addicted, transgender woman with AIDS who becomes an unlikely friend to McConaughey’s character in the film. A heartbreaking portrayal, Leto should be another surefire winner next Sunday. If anyone could pull off the upset, watch out for Michael Fassbender, whose ferocious performance as slave owner Edwin Epps in 12 Years a Slave stole the show from a supremely talented cast.

Who will win: Leto. He gave a sympathetic, moving performance completely holding his own with the equally magnetic performance from McConaughey. Leto also swept all of the precursor acting awards and should be clearing some space on his mantle for his Oscar trophy come Sunday.

Who should win: Fassbender. He gave the most three-dimensional portrayal of a truly evil character since Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List. Unfairly snubbed in the Best Actor category two years ago for his riveting performance in Steve Mcqueen’s Shame, he should be recognized for his brilliant work here.

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The Best Supporting Actress Race: (Sally Hawkins, Jennifer Lawrence, Lupita Nyong’o, Julia Roberts, June Squibb)

This years Best Supporting Actress race has quickly evolved into a two-horse race between Lupita Nyong’o and Jennifer Lawrence. The former portrays Patsey, a slave girl who lives a tormented existence on the plantation of Edwin Epps in 12 Years a Slave. In her film debut, Nyong’o is a breathtaking talent. Beginning the race as the sure frontrunner, her momentum has been stalled recently by Lawrence. Her role as Christian Bale’s wife Rosalyn in American Hustle is pure comedic gold. Stealing every scene she’s in, Lawrence is dynamite. You miss her every time she’s offscreen. Now, I’ll be the first to tell you, I wasn’t the biggest fan of her Oscar winning performance in last years Silver Linings Playbook. I thought she was overrated and undeserving of the praise she received for that film. However, I think she nailed it here. It may be too close to call but my head tells me Nyong’o takes the trophy this year though my heart is with Lawrence.

Who will win: Lean Nyong’o, though its very close. She was an absolute revelation in 12 Years a Slave.

Who should win: Lawrence. I wasn’t on board with her talent at first but she won me over with her hilarious work in Hustle. I loved this performance. Two Oscars in as many years, all by the age of 24, would be quite the feat.

Other Random Predictions:

. Despite the best efforts of the host and the producers, this years show will still drag over 3 and half hours in length.

. Of the winners, Cate Blanchett will give the classiest speech of the bunch.

. Whomever wins Best Supporting Actress will cry. Mark my words.

. At least one winner will give a shout out to recently deceased actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

. The camera will pan to George Clooney more than any other actor throughout the broadcast.

. There will be one too many montages and/or unnecessary musical numbers.

. After Seth Macfarlane’s controversial stint as host last year, Ellen DeGeneres will generally play it safe with her commentary.

Well, thats it folks. Enjoy the show and I look forward to discussing the aftermath next week. Until next time.

Giving In: The First One

Well, I’ve finally done it. I’ve caved in and decided to join the 21st century by starting a blog. I am notoriously behind the times when it comes to new media. I was one of the last members of my High School class to join Facebook. I don’t Tweet, Pin, Instagram, Snapchat, Tinder, or any any of that other bullshit. I don’t particularly have anything against these forms of social expression or the people that utilize them, I just don’t care to take part in them. Maybe its the spirit of the grumpy 75 year old man that inhabits my 25 year old body. Maybe I’m not that vain. Or maybe I am and I just want to conceal that fact from the  world at large. Shit I don’t know. So, if Im so not of the times, then why am I writing a blog you ask? This is a fair question and with this first post, hopefully I will have answered it.

For those who don’t know me, my name is Kyle Bush and I love movies. I realize that this statement isn’t exactly going to set the world on fire or the blogosphere atwitter, but it’s the truth. More than just the act of watching movies though, I thoroughly enjoy film criticism. Simply put, I get a kick out of bullshitting with people about the movies I watch. All of this was kickstarted Christmas of 1997 when I was 9 years old. My parents gave me a gift that would irrevocably change the course of my life. No, it wasn’t a Beanie Baby. It was the 1998 Leonard Maltin Movie guide. 1600 pages jam packed with reviews of just about every movie made in human existence. I was completely enraptured in this thing. I lugged the hefty tome with me wherever I went. Car trips, visits to the doctor, restaurants, bathrooms, Grandma’s house, everywhere I went this thing was under the crook of my arm. I poured through the pages, check marking all of the movies I’d seen and circling movies that I added to a “wish list” for future viewings. Before I get too far ahead of myself though, let me take a step back and briefly explain the set up for this gem of a reference guide. Films are listed in the guide alphabetically. Each entry contains the title of the movie, a list of cast and crew, a brief 200 or so word review, and a rating scaled from Bomb (Piece of shit) to 4 stars (Masterpiece). Ok, now back to my story. I was obsessed with this thing. I remember thinking to myself how cool it must be to get paid to watch movies and then rip them apart on a daily basis. “That’s the kind of job I want,” I would tell my folks with as much certainty as a 9 year old can muster, “I want to be a film critic.”

Now, with this thought germinating in my brain, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. I went on a movie watching tear over the next few years. Blockbuster was like a sacred space for me and I relished trips there like a kid on the way to Disneyland. I watched the works of the new auteurs (Tarantino, Anderson, etc) then trekked backwards to the living masters, (Scorsese, Coppola, Spielberg) and finally the legends (Hitchcock, Kubrick, Welles, etc). I would rate the pros and cons of every movie I watched and assign it a star rating, all in my head mind you, then I would flip through and see how closely my thoughts matched up with my old buddy Leonard Maltin. Often I was in agreement with his assessments, other times I was completely flabbergasted with his idiocy. I remember shouting, “2 out of 4 stars for Taxi Driver? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me?!,”  completely startling my parents several rooms away. These types of exclamations became commonplace around our house as I grew older. I was on my way.

In 2000, my life as a wannabe film critic was again changed forever with my introduction to Roger Ebert. Again around Christmas time, maybe it was my birthday, I was gifted the 2001 edition of the Roger Ebert movie guide. Now this bad boy was nothing like its Leonard Maltin counterpart. Around 700 or so pages, this volume was filled with film essays from the previous year. Lengthier pieces that really delved down into the nitty gritty of what he viewed. Ebert was then the chief film critic of the Chicago Sun Times and was lauded across the country as one of the best and brightest in his field. He even won a Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1975 for his works, the first and only film critic to have that distinction. It didn’t take much time at all for Ebert to quickly become my all time favorite film critic. I greatly admired his writing style. His pieces were thoughtful, entertaining, well written, and above all accessible. He didn’t come across as a film snob, even with his considerable credentials. He didn’t talk down to his audience. He was just a regular guy that loved movies and sharing that passion with his readers. It was a very infectious quality. Over the next decade or so I would always make the annual purchase of Roger’s latest movie guide and proceed to fly through the pages like it was a Tom Clancy bestseller. I also began venturing online to his website where I would read his archived reviews from decades past. In his later years, I even began following his blog. Just last year, April 2013 to be exact, Roger Ebert passed away after battling with Thyroid cancer. I was very saddened at his passing because honestly I felt like I knew him. You could hear his voice clearly in his reviews and he would often pepper them with biographical tidbits from his life as well. It was like a friend had died, not just a random stranger. It’s really Roger Ebert who I owe thanks to for finally growing a pair and sitting down to write this movie blog.

Now, before you start, I just wanted to remind you that in no way do I think I’m going to be the “Next Roger Ebert.” I would have to be the biggest egotistical dickweed in the world to think such a thing. What I am saying is that Ebert was a huge influence on me and I hope that I am able to emulate aspects of his style as I embark on this next phase in my life as a wannabe movie critic.

Anyways, in bringing this first post to a close, I wanted to give a firm answer to the question I posed in the beginning. I’m writing this blog because it’s finally time for me start putting these thoughts that have been collecting in my mind over the past two decades onto paper. I love movies and finally I get to kinda/sorta be a movie critic. It’s both exciting and terrifying for me. There have been so many incredibly gifted journalists, critics, and historians that have come before me in this field. It’s a daunting task to throw my hat into the ring and see what people think.  I hope at the very least I can entertain you and stoke the fires of some good discussions. I’ve finally given in, hopefully it’s worth it.

-Kyle