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St. James Plaindealer - St. James, MN
  • It's Movie Time

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  • With snow on the ground, the thermometer plummeting to biting temperatures, and bone-rattling wind whipping through town with the subtlety of a Joe Frazier left hook, we're now in the time when people flee the frigid outdoors into the warm embrace of movie theaters (or their own couches). With that in mind, I thought I'd use this space to tell you about the three best movies I've seen so far this year. You've likely already heard about “Gravity,” which set the box office on fire in October and is perhaps the early frontrunner for a Best Picture Academy Award, but the hype is deserved. Directed by the visionary Alfonso Cuaron--who also did the terrific and sobering “Children of Men” in 2006--Gravity is essentially about one woman's battle to return to earth--and whether she really even wants to get back. That woman, Ryan Stone, is played superbly by Sandra Bullock, who will surely garner a Best Actress Oscar nomination and may very well win. She's joined in space by the always appealing George Clooney, but disaster strikes, and they need to find a way to get back to earth. The real stars of the film, however, are the visuals, and that's why this is a movie that must be seen on a big screen in 3D. It's an amazing technical achievement that will certainly receive award nominations in the craft categories like sound, cinematography, visual effects, etc. While 3D is often overused and abused in movies, it can be astonishing when done correctly, as in “Gravity,” “Avatar,” “Hugo,” and “Life of Pi.” For example, when Bullock's character is crying in one scene, one of her tears seemingly meanders right off the screen and into the audience--and her face is even reflected in the teardrop! Also much ballyhooed is “Captain Phillips,” which tells the true story of Richard Phillips, who was taken captive by Somali pirates during the hijacking of his ship in 2009. Directed by Paul Greengrass, it's a straight-forward, no-frills, documentary-style adaptation--and that's the correct decision. In journalism, you learn that some stories are so extraordinary, you only need to get out of the way and let the tale tell itself. This is an edge-of-your-seat, tense, taught thriller, but it also manages to find some empathy for the pirates and their desperate, hopeless lot in life. And Tom Hanks, who plays the eponymous captain, proves yet again he may be America's finest actor. For most of the film, he remains calm and composed, because, as the leader, that's the pose he must adopt--and it makes his outburst at the film's end all the more emotional and startling. While those two films will certainly gain their fair share of awards and nominations this year, a small film that may escape attention--but deserves just as much acclaim--is “The Spectacular Now.” Directed by James Ponsoldt, who also managed a piercing look at alcoholism in 2012 with “Smashed,” this movie focuses on two high-schoolers, Sutter Keely and Aimee Finecky--played by Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley. (Some may recognize Woodley from her outstanding and much honored performance as George Clooney's oldest daughter in Alexander Payne's sublime 2011 effort, “The Descendents.”) Keely and Finecky are polar opposite personalities: she's buttoned-up, reserved, highly-intelligent, hard-working, and lacks self-confidence, while he's an amiable, life-of-the-party charmer with no initiative who is--if not completely drunk--at least mildly buzzed at all times. It's one of the finest movies about teenagers I've seen, and as someone who just turned 25, I'm close enough to that age to remember what it's like. It's honest, it gets the details right, the dialogue is right on point, and both Woodley and Teller seem poised for big futures. So, if you're looking for movies to see, you could do a lot worse than starting with those three.
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