Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave

12yearsI was originally planning on seeing ’12 Years a Slave’ all the way back in October or November, but things just didn’t work out. Much to my delight, I was able to see this film this past Wednesday at my local multiplex and I will tell you this: It was worth the wait.

’12 Years a Slave’ is at times a very hard watch, but one that is well worth it. Right from the opening, director Steve McQueen, in just his third feature film project, sets the tone for a two hour plus film that will test your resolve as a human being.

From McQueen’s directing, to the understated score from legend Hans Zimmer, ’12 Years a Slave’ is an emotional ride through the hardships suffered not by just one man, but generations of humans who were enslaved due to the colour of their skin.

The big thing with ’12 Years a Slave’ is that, unlike other films in 2013, this film earned the praise, the recognition and the award nominations that have come its way. Chiwetel Ejiofor carries this film with the kind of depth, emotion and gravitas that the big name veteran actors like Daniel Day-Lewis and Tom Hanks can only dream of.

It really feels that Ejiofor threw everything he had into ’12 Years a Slave’, from the whipping he first takes upon being kidnapped, to pain of the lashing he is forced himself to give out near the end of the film. Ejiofor does such a wonderful job of bringing freeman-turned-slave Solomon Northup to the screen that in one scene, a shot of just Ejiofor looking into the camera, you cannot but help feel that you are indeed looking into the soul of Northup on a cotton plantation.

As much as this is a breakthrough role for an actor that you have quite possibly seen but not recognized in other films, the true coming out party from ’12 Years a Slave’ is reserved for Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o.

Nyong’o, who somehow just lost out on the Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe award to Jennifer Lawrence, makes a stunning debut as a sometimes favoured slave of the character brought to the screen by McQueen favourite, Michael Fassbender. Nyong’o brings a very stark realization to this film, as we see just what it meant to be a “favourite” of a plantation owner.

’12 Years a Slave’ also benefits hugely from the main supporting roles of three actors: Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt and Academy Award nominee Fassbender.  All three actors play different roles in this film, and each highlight a vast difference in society during the 1840’s and 1850’s.

Fassbender is almost spellbinding as an alcoholic plantation owner, essentially the personification of evil in ’12 Years a Slave’.  Fassbender, who has featured in all three of director McQueen’s feature films, plums the depths of the evils that white plantation owners inflicted on their black slaves, and the ironic love that they seemed to have for their favourites.

To contrast Fassbender, we have Cumberbatch who is our first plantation owner we come across as his character is the first to purchase Northup following his abduction. Cumberbatch shows the lesser side of the evil, showing favour for his “debt” and standing almost as a polar opposite to Fassbender’s character later in the film.

Finally, we have Brad Pitt in the smallest of the three roles but one that is the most critical to the resolution of the film.  Pitt shows his years as a Canadian abolitionist carpenter who provides Northup with the recourse to his salvation.  Of the three, Fassbender definitely does carry his Best Supporting Actor nomination well.

The end of the film killed me and, even though you know how it is going to end, you can’t help but fully feel the entire well of emotion that has been dredged up throughout ’12 Years a Slave’.

As for the Academy Awards next month, ’12 Years a Slave’ is my choice for Best Picture, as is Lupita Nyong’o for Best Supporting Actress.  Both Steve McQueen for Best Director and Chiwetel Ejiofor for Best Actor are most warranted but will have tough competition for their wins.  As for Michael Fassbender and the Best Supporting Actor award, it is unfortunate that he is up against a not as deserved momentum train called Jared Leto this year, as I feel it should Fassbender all the way.

In the end, while a tough film to watch at times, ’12 Years a Slave’ is the best film from 2013 that I have seen and one that will stay with me for years to come.

As always, for all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer.  Cheers.

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Ten Favourites of 2013

About Time

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Released – November 1st

Box Office – $15 million North America/$68 million Worldwide

‘About Time’ is and should be the biggest surprise on this list. A Sci-Fi time travel film disguised as a romantic comedy, this film is quite possibly the best rom-com I have ever seen. What should not be a surprise is that a quirky British comedy rated highly with me. There really are days when I think I should be British.

The key to this film was a quiet but wonderful turn by Bill Nighy as the father of the main character. Utilized twice as a plot device to both introduce the key plot element but then to also further along the film later on, Nighy’s charm breathed life into what could have otherwise been a flat character, and allows him to hold ‘About Time’ together in the end.

While allowing the viewer an opportunity to think about what they themselves would do if in a similar situation, ‘About Time’ manages to avoid the usual trappings of a “normal” time travel film. Staying away from the usual tropes of survival or riches, ‘About Time’ creates a nice change of pace from the average film.

Captain Phillips

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Released – October 11th

Box Office – $105 million North America/$109 million Worldwide

My biggest issue with “Captain Phillips’ has been spending the past couple of days figuring out how Tom Hanks did not get another Best Actor nomination for the 86th Academy Awards. He is this film. We all know just what an exceptional actor Hanks is, but for the first time in almost twenty years, he truly shows it off in this film. Hanks is once again worth the price of admission to a film again.

What that doesn’t actually tell you though is just how wonderful ‘Captain Phillips is as a whole. Director Paul Greengrass crafts a film that manages to keep you on the edge of your seat for the entire run time, despite the fact that you know pretty much how the film is going to end. That is always an exceptional feat to pull off.

Another amazing aspect that really helped ‘Captain Phillips’ be a strong film was the performance put forth by Barkhad Abdi as the leader of the band of pirates. Abdi manages the rare feat of actually stealing scenes against Hanks and it is no wonder that the was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Frozen

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Released – November 22

Box Office – $336 Million North America/$426 million Worldwide

‘Frozen’ continues the return of Disney to the top of the animation mountain. Having been supplanted by Pixar and DreamWorks, Disney has returned to form with recent hits ‘Tangled’ and ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ and ‘Frozen’ makes it a trifecta of all-around amazing films. Featuring a tour-de-force return to the hapharzardly abandoned fairy tale princess sub-genre that is Disney’s animated calling card, this film offers something for everyone.

Two straight years running and three of the last four years, Disney has produced what I would consider to be the best animated film of each year by offering films that out-Pixar Pixar while also bringing in both sexes with films that steal DreamWorks thunder. From jokes for all to amazing Oscar quality songs that are catchy, ‘Frozen’ is everything that you would expect from the House of Mouse and more, breaking down barriers as it goes.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Released – December 13th

Box Office – $249 million North America/$585 million Worldwide

Peter Jackson took what could be considered some unwarranted criticism from last year’s ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ for trying to meld a children’s book with his cinematic version of Middle Earth.  However, what Jackson managed to do was to make an even finer quality return to Tolkien’s world with ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’.

The most amazing aspect of the second Hobbit film is the dragon, Smaug, himself. When you finally see something come to life that you have long imagined from your childhood, you may get a little concerned about it. Well, in the end, Jackson and company pull off a wonderfully looking Smaug, and one that is key to this film. The other aspect, aside from the look, that sets Smaug apart is the voice work done by Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch’s voice is now how I will read Smaug’s lines whenever I read the book in the future.

While still suffering a little from the middle film syndrome, ‘Smaug’ is still a rambunctious ride and does its job perfectly of delivering our characters to the third act to come with this December’s finale, ‘The Hobbit: There and Back Again’.

Iron Man 3

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Released – May 3rd

Box Office – $409 million North America/$806 million Worldwide

The first film that Disney and Marvel have released in their post-Avengers world did not fail to deliver. Showcasing everything we have come to expect from Marvel Studios in general and Robert Downey Jr. in particular, ‘Iron Man 3’ was a great way to launch Marvel’s Phase Two much like ‘Iron Man’ did for what became Phase One.

While presenting a seeming end to the arc of Tony Stark, and to the franchise in general should RDJ not come back, ‘Iron Man 3’ did so with a bang. Featuring one of the visually best action scenes of 2013, this film further entrenched Iron Man as a character to be reckoned with at the box office, right up there with Batman and James Bond.

‘Iron Man 3’ also showed that Marvel will not rest on its laurels in Phase Two, but will work to push the envelope further, by making us all ask the question: “What will become of Iron Man moving forward?”

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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Released – December 25th

Box Office – $55 million North America/$105 million Worldwide

‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ spoke to me very much on a personal level. That it did so was a great change of pace from the normal kind of films that I watch, or even other films that some would consider similar to this one. It spoke to me as I myself have at times been lost in thought and what ifs and doubts, very much something that afflicts the main character in this film.

That the opening act of the film, while showcasing those moments, was a little slow and dodgy is something that is easy to overcome once the film starts picking up in the second and third acts. While at times it can seem that the real world adventures of Ben Stiller’s Walter Mitty are even more day dreamish than his day dream adventures, the fact that it shows that once you take a chance you don’t know where you will end up highlights how amazing that can be in life.

Star Trek Into Darkness

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Released – May 16th

Box Office – $228 million North America/$238 million Worldwide

Paramount Pictures has been in the same boat as Universal Pictures lately, struggling to create new franchises that will allow it to continue to be profitable in this day and age. What Paramount does have though is a sure fire bet for North American audiences, and that is J.J. Abrams’ rebooted ‘Star Trek’ films.  The action levels have never been higher in Trek films, and in ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’  they also added more of the political air back to the franchise as well.

Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and all have done an amazing job on not only bringing “Star Trek’ into the 21st Century but also of making these characters their own with their own unique voices, which was something that no one could have been sure would have happened when creating a new timeline to tell new stories of Kirk, Spock et al. While putting a new twist on a story many are familiar with, they also managed to tell a story that was full of humour, action and also some easter eggs for fans of the original television series as well.

This is the End

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Released – May 12th

Box Office – $101 million North America/$24 million Worldwide

Only one true comedy made it to this list in 2013, and it might surprise most that it was ‘This is the End’. Featuring characterizations of Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill and Craig Robinson, along with others, the film parodies the reactions of movie stars to an apparent apocalyptic event.

The film is rude, crude, offensive and everything you would expect from a tongue-in-cheek take on their own lives, and as a result was the funniest film I saw in 2013.  ‘This is the End’ is also the first film I have ever seen in theatres where people got up and left due to being offended by it, and if possible, this made it all the more hilarious to me.

Near the end of the film it loses a little bit of steam as it tries to actually finish off telling a story, but for the most part, this film doesn’t take itself serious and neither should you.

White House Down

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Released – June 28th

Box Office – $73 million North America/$132 million Worldwide

As I stated in my previous “Most Disappointing of 2013″ article, ‘A Good Day to Die Hard” was out-Die Harded by a couple of films last year. The best of those films was ‘White House Down’, featuring Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx and James Woods, which was a rollicking action film that stood out above the rest for me.

Channing Tatum channels the best John McClane for the 21st Century that we have seen so far, and plays well off of both Jamie Foxx’s President and James Woods’ villain. There are some that will tell that based off of the box office results of ‘White House Down’ that Tatum cannot carry an action film, but that is simply not the case at all. What killed this film was its release date, nothing more.

Coming out after the failed ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’ and the also quite decent and also quite similar ‘Olympus Has Fallen’, ‘White House Down’ suffered from viewer fatigue at the box office, but you should do yourself a favour and check this one out. From director Roland Emmerich, this film was the best of the three.

Rush

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Released – September 20th

Box Office – $26 million North America/$63 million Worldwide

Ron Howard’s ‘Rush’ was the best film that I saw in the theatres during 2013 and I cannot wait to own it when it comes out in a couple of weeks. Featuring Chris Hemsworth from ‘Thor’ and relative newcomer, to mainstream audiences for the most part, Daniel Bruhl, ‘Rush’ tells the story of the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda and its culminatin during the 1975 Formula One season.

Using a blend of CGI and practical effects, Howard crafted a wonderful film that left an exhilarating feeling throughout. The use of actual historical racing cars was a major part of making this possible. This film is more than just the two main actors, as the cars are also the stars that make this the best film of the year.

Showing off a more dramatic side than though possible, Hemsworth give a performance that makes it possible to believe that he could Academy Awards in the future. However, the real breakthrough of ‘Rush’ is Bruhl who shows off a wide range of emotions as Niki Lauda who suffers through a horrific crash during the 1975 German Grand Prix. Bruhl steals the screen every time we see him, and his resulting nomination for a 2014 Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor was well warranted.

I will say this as a late addition. The fact that ‘Rush’ was completely shut out of the 86th Academy Awards with zero nominations does not accurately reflect the strongest film of 2013.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Our fifth visit to the wonderful setting of Middle Earth has finally come, and there is every possibility that it is the most well rounded effort outside of ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’.  Yes, I will say it, that is just how good ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ is.

From beginning to end, Peter Jackson crafts yet another engaging film that explores more unseen parts of Middle Earth, all while delving deeper into the mythology that J.R.R. Tolkien created when writing the appendices to “The Lord of the Rings” back in the 1950’s.

From the prologue, all the way to a ominous “What have we done?”, Jackson puts us on a roller coaster ride of thrills and chills.  At times this ride may seem familiar, but Jackson has put enough of a spin on things to make them still be fresh enough to leave us wanting more.

While many point to the “juvenile” nature of some of the stunts in both ‘An Unexpected Journey’ and ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ as a way for Jackson to say “look at what I can do with CGI”, I simply look at it as an effective way to lighten the mood in these films.  What some people seem to be forgetting is that Tolkien wrote “The Hobbit” for his young son and therefore should never be shown to be anywhere near as dark as “The Lord of the Rings”, and for the most part, Jackson has nailed that right on the head this time around.

While ‘The Lord of the Rings’ films are some of the most successful and critically acclaimed films of all time, the first entry into ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy is not as loves, both by fans and critics, but was still very much a success and laid a strong groundwork for what may be one of the best big budget films of 2013, all on the strength of the second titular character.

Benedict Cumberbatch does a supreme job as the voice of the dreaded wurm, Smaug, and with enough conviction to possibly even rival the job that Andy Serkis did bringing Gollum to life in four films.  Cumberbatch, best known for his turns as Sherlock Holmes and ‘Star Trek’ villain Khan, brings life and death to Smaug in a way that I never truly felt could be accurately brought to the screen.

The look of Smaug is just another extraordinary piece of work from the Middle Earth crew that should have come as no surprise to anyone.  From his stalking of Bilbo in the treasure room, taken right from the book, all the way to his finally taking flight, Smaug is a menacing presence, highlighted in the end by the work done by the digital artists to bring his mouth and face to life.

One of the other truly mesmerizing aspects of what Jackson has done with our five trips to Middle Earth so far has been to differentiate each locale from each other, and that is once again at the fore of ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ with new locales of Mirkwood, the Woodland Realm of the Elves and Laketown.

Beginning with an aura of Mirkwood that is on par with what we saw with Fangorn Forest in ‘The Two Towers’, through wooded caverns of the home of the Woodland Elves, up to the icy coldness of Esgaroth and the true Desolation of Smaug, Jackson brings forwarded even more breathtaking scenery, which is one of hallmarks of the five films so far.

The last thing that I really want to touch on here is just how perfect and wonderful Martin Freeman is in this film as the lead character.  Freeman brings to life all of the insecurities that Bilbo would be going through during this adventure, but also demonstrates just how much a Hobbit can change, much as Tolkien wrote about way back in the day.  Freeman is in a class of his own in this film, and it will be interesting to see what changes he shows next December and if it will finally be worthy of award talk.

In the end, ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ manages to overcome the dreaded middle film syndrome in a wonderful merging of light heartedness and impending doom and darkness in a much better way than ‘The Two Towers’ was able to do and bring forth an amazing visualization of a character that all fans of the book have tried to see in their minds eye for decades.

For all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer.  Cheers.

Fall 2013 Season – Part Two

I don’t know if it is due from just getting older and as a result being more open to films beyond raunchy comedies and big-budget popcorn flicks, or if my tastes are changing, or if I am actively seeking out more types of films and being open to them, but with each passing year I manage to find additional levels of enjoyment from award caliber fare later in the calendar year.

As a result of this, the following article is full of eleven different award season fodder that under normal circumstances, will be on my viewing list before the end of January, and this list contains only one film that I know for sure would have made my list just two to three years ago.

This is also a sign for movie audiences everywhere on two different fronts.  First off, more big name directors and big name actors and actresses are willing to do smaller, character driven films that have enough entertainment value for the general masses.  Secondly, bigger metroplexes in more markets, and even smaller cities, are willing to bring these films in knowing that it will draw audiences to increase profits.  These two things lead off into numerous films on this list.

The ten films that follow are the larger films that are already garnering award buzz, be it for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor or Best Actress awards, and these are the eleven films that most people will have the opportunity to see before the Golden Globes are held in January.

Rush – September 27

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The only film on this list that I will 100% see, ‘Rush’ tells the story of the famed 1976 Formula One season and the race for the title between Englishman James Hunt and Austrian Niki Lauda and the horrific crash that Lauda suffered during the German Grand Prix of that season.

Directed by Ron Howard and starring Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl, ‘Rush’ seems poised to push Hemsworth beyond his role as Thor and into the light as an actor to deal with moving forward.

Gravity – October 4

gravity

Initially put forth as a true 3D event film, in the same vein as last year’s ‘Life of Pi’, ‘Gravity’ may be one of Hollywood’s last gasps to sell a film as must see in the format that has been shunned for the most part in North America this year.  From director Alfonso Cuaron, ‘Gravity’ appears to tell the story of astronauts being stranded in space.

In order to get the best feel for the film, many people are avoiding watching trailers and TV spots featuring stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney floating away in space, and as a result of not furthering plot points in these scenes, the average theatre goer may wind up passing on this film, but much like ‘Life of Pi’, it could be a mistake waiting to happen to pass on it.

Captain Phillips – October 11

captphillips

Tom Hanks was one of the most bankable actors of the mid to late 1990’s, and with back-to-back Best Actor Oscar wins for ‘Philadelphia’ and ‘Forrest Gump’ and two further nominations for ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and ‘Cast Away’, Hanks practically owned Hollywood at the turn of the millennium.  While his time since than has been more miss than hit, it appears that ‘Captain Phillips’ may be a turning back the clock so to speak.

Based on a true story, a running theme in this years films that are chasing the award’s season, ‘Captain Phillips’ will feature a defiant Hanks in a bit of an isolationist role, something right in his wheelhouse, and we may end up seeing a sixth career Best Actor nod from this film.

The Fifth Estate – October 18

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Featuring one of the hottest names in films today, Benedict Cumberbatch, ‘The Fifth Estate’ tells the story of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his exploits in becoming one of the most infamous men in the world.  Featuring Daniel Bruhl in his second appearance on this list as Assange’s right-hand man and author of the book that the film itself is being partly based on.

That being said, due to the nature of the film and the fact that is based around a whistle-blower, it may wind up not being able to live up to its own hype, and a quick look at the current Rotten Tomatoes score for the film seems to back up that line of thinking.

12 Years a Slave – October 18

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If there is a film that could be considered a heavy runaway contender for most awards this season, ’12 Years a Slave’ would be sure to be that film.  Based on the real-life re-tellings of Solomon Northup, ’12 Years a Slave’ tells the story of a freeman kidnapped and sold into slavery in the American South before the Civil War.

Directed by Steve McQueen and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup, and a slew of name actors in other roles, such as Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch and Brad Pitt, ’12 Years a Slave’ sure seems to be the go-to film for critics ahead of its limited release in mid-October.  Whether that steam continues for average theatre goers or not, this film is sure setup to win hearts and trophies.

The Wolf of Wall Street – November 15

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Another year, another highly anticipated film that might finally give Leonardo DiCaprio his sought after Oscar.  That is what ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ carries with it this year.  While the film also features actors like Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey, expect DiCaprio to be the centre of attention of the marketing for this film, especially considering it is directed by Martin Scorsese, and the history between the two.

Whether or not this film can finally get DiCaprio the long elusive Oscar for Best Actor will be one of the key drivers and selling points moving forward, especially if it is having a healthy run in the theatres when nominations begin to be announced.

The Monuments Men – December 18

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I am a sucker for war movies, and ‘The Monuments Men’ seems to be right up that alley, yet with a nice twist to separate it from the pack.  Set during World War II, this film features a group of allies trying to preserve works of art and other culturally relevant items from the hands of Hitler and the Nazis.

Based on true events, ‘The Monuments Men’ will be another testament to the wide range of great actors in Hollywood today, with the likes of George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray and John Goodman putting on the fatigues to fight an important cause during the war years.

Inside Llewyn Davis – December 20

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The latest film from the Coen Brothers, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’, features another star-studded cast in a film built around the 1960’s folk music scene.  Featuring the talents of Oscar Davis, John Goodman, Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ is bound to be one of the harder to predict how it will do.

The reason for that is that it could be a quieter film due to the plot and the store, but the film also managed to win the Grand Prix award at Cannes this year, and that could cancel out the other aspects of the film.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – December 25

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It appears that ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ is Ben Stiller’s attempt to enter the serious part of his career.  As director and lead actor of the film, Stiller is definitely trying to show off that he has some real acting ability, and judging by the trailer that was released for the film, it will be hard to argue that he isn’t pulling it off.

While a story of a daydreamer has been done before, specifically a film of the same name all the way back 1947, a serious tone to the film could be quite the interesting take in the Christmas time period that Hollywood loves for serious award contenders.

American Hustle – December 25

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Last year’s ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ from director David O. Russell was one of my favourite films of 2012, and Russell is back with ‘American Hustle’ this year.  Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams and two of Russel’s favourites in Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, who  both received Oscar nomination for ‘Playbook’ last year, ‘American Hustle’ takes a look at greed and corruption in 1970’s America.

‘Playbook’ was the first film since 1981 to garner nominations in all four acting categories at the Oscar’s, and with the cast present in ‘American Hustle’, there is no reason to think it can’t duplicate the feat, and a repeat of ‘Playbook’s big five nominations is quite possible as well.

There are definitely more films that will be considered as award season contenders, but this is just a quick list of the ones that most people will end up having come to their theatres this fall and holiday season.  Leading up to the Golden Globes and the Oscar’s, anyone of these ten films could become a front runner.

For all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer.  Cheers.

Fall 2013 Season – Part One

Once the calendar moves beyond Labour Day, the landscape at the movie theatre changes as well.  Instead of being inundated with popcorn flicks and blockbuster fare, September is a dumping ground for for lesser titles as this month tends to have the lowest theatre attendance each and every year.

As the calendar changes to October through the rest of the calendar year through the holiday season, the theatre becomes split really between two kinds of films.  First off we have the start of the Award Season, as films begin to jockey for nominations for major awards like the Golden Globes and the Oscars.  Secondly, we have a late year blockbuster season, where some films now go in hopes of earning a big box office take for their studios, as evidenced by the fact that the last six November’s have all seen over $1 billion dollars for films released that month.

The first films on tap are going to look at some of the bigger films that will be coming out between now and the end of the year, and the hopes of the studios with those films.  The films as always will be listed according to release date.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2September 27

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After a summer heavy with family aimed animated fare, it will be interesting to see how ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2’ will do in late September.  The original ‘Cloudy’ opened with a solid $30 million in mid-September of 2009 and anything above and beyond that will be considered a win this year.

A return of most of the voice actors from the first film and a hilarious premise of foodimals trying to escape the setting of the original film, the sequel should be in line to be a hit as well.  The one thing that it does need to be wary of is the fatigue that hit families with successive films aimed at them all summer long.  If ‘Cloudy 2’ can draw in the family audiences, it seems set to challenge the recently set September opening weekend mark from last year’s ‘Hotel Transylvania’.

Ender’s GameNovember 1

endersgameOctober doesn’t have a film that is poised to own the box office combination of big opening with sustained legs, so the next film on tap that could muster that is ‘Ender’s Game’ at the start of November.  Based on the book by Orson Scott Card, ‘Ender’s Game’ is the last gasp for Sci-Fi this year from Hollywood, so it will be interesting to see if it can turn around a very so-so year in that genre.

Due the up and down nature of big budget Sci-Fi from Hollywood this year, and the fact that ‘Ender’s Game’ does have a main character that is in his teens and with a downturn this year when it comes to the Young Adult genre, it could be a tough sell for ‘Ender’s Game’, although the Young Adult genre is definitely aimed more at the teenage girl demographic.  The one thing that could save this film is the 30 years of young boys reading the book that it is based on, and the fact that it is recommended reading for United States Marines.

Thor: The Dark WorldNovember 8

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‘Thor: The Dark World’ is a huge film for Marvel Studios and parent company Disney.  On the heels of last year’s ‘The Avengers’ and this summer’s ‘Iron Man 3’, both of which were North American and International box office behemoths, this film will tell wether only Robert Downey Jr. is the sell, or if other characters and actors can pull the trick as well.

2011’s ‘Thor’ finished 10th in the North American box office with $181 million, so Marvel is clearly hoping for an ‘Avengers’ boost to that number, and looking at isolating the film’s Norse Mythology aspects by placing it in November as winter starts to hit may be a key to that. The downfall to that placement comes with the next film on the list and the fact that it is a sequel to the second biggest film of 2012.  If ‘Thor: The Dark World’ can overcome that, it could be another huge hit for Disney and Marvel.

The Hunger Games: Catching FireNovember 22

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I don’t think anyone, even the studio and producers, expected last year’s ‘The Hunger Games to become the third biggest film of 2012 and, at that time, just the 14th film to cross the $400 million North American box office line.  And to do it as a March release was practically unheard of.

Hit with a quick turnaround due to Jennifer Lawrence’s participation in one of 2014’s most anticipated blockbusters, ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ will be looking to work off of the massive success of the first film, but that could be hard to live up to in a jam-packed mid-November to mid-December season.  This will be a big test for Lawrence’s ability to draw in the Young Adult crowd.

FrozenNovember 27

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Disney has had some success with November releases of animated features in the last few years, including last year’s ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ and 2011’s ‘Tangled’.  More of the same is expected from this year’s ‘Frozen’, featuring a wintery tale with supporting characters like a talking snowman and a pet reindeer.

A lot of Disney’s recent animated success has come as a result of not taking the films too seriously, and the comedic tones of ‘Tangled’ and ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ will need to continue if ‘Frozen is going to be able to stand out in a year with a lot of family animated features.  Coming out almost two months after ‘Cloudy 2’ should allow ‘Frozen to have a strong run at theatres, as long as it is a good film.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of SmaugDecember 13

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The first entry into the return to Middle Earth, ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ met with lukewarm praise from critics and less than stellar word of mouth, yet still managed to go above $300 million in North America and over $1 billion worldwide.  As a result of the word of mouth situation, there is a possibly that the second entry in what is now a trilogy, ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ could finish under those numbers.

That being said, for fans of the book and fans of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ films and books, the second instalment of ‘The Hobbit’ will give us our first look at the much teased design of the dragon Smaug, and being voiced by current mega-star Benedict Cumberbatch will help with the marketing.

Filmed in 48fps, one of the biggest knocks against ‘An Unexpected Journey’ was that at times it looked too fake, a result of the human eye not being used to the format it was shot in. ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ follows suit and getting over this hurdle will be critical for the success of this middle chapter.

Anchorman 2: The Legend ContinuesDecember 20

anchorman

I don’t know if there has ever been a more anticipated sequel to comedy ever, in the history of film.  The original ‘Anchorman’ was a modest hit in 2004 but has grown immensely in popularity since then, which will be a massive boon to the sequel and its chances at the box office.

While December is not know as a time of year for a comedy of this nature, ‘Anchorman 2’ will be used as counter-programming against the slate of Oscar-bait films that will be released around the same time period, so expectations will be high that the sequel will be able to pull in ‘The Hangover’ type numbers.

Jack RyanDecember 25

jackryan

Quite possibly the biggest unknown of all the films on this list, ‘Jack Ryan’ has no official trailer released yet, despite being scheduled for theatres just over three months from now. The title of the film is also rumoured to be changing, with a couple of prospective changes rumoured for almost a month now.

Should this film still see its Christmas Day release date, it would be the fifth film to feature the main character from a number of Tom Clancy espionage and world politics books, but as a reboot to feature a younger John Patrick Ryan with reboot expert Chris Pine in the title role.  An attempt by Paramount to get a second franchise rolling with a younger case, ‘Jack Ryan’ sadly is not based on any of the pre-existing books, which could make things unnecessarily cumbersome.  That being said, if done correctly, this could be a surprise hit for late 2013.

In the end, various companies such as Sony, Disney, Paramount and Warner Bros. are hoping to bolster their revenues late in the year with films such as these, and in a counter programming role, many of these films should have long profitable runs in theatres.

For all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer.  Cheers.

Top Three Summer Blockbusters of 2013

Well, the summer blockbuster season of 2013 has come and gone and is quite a mixed bag of results.  While the overall box office from the start of May until the end of Labour Day weekend set a new seasonal record with a total of over $4.6 billion, many movies flopped considerably at the North American box office.

When you take into account estimated attendance, summer of 2013 ranks as only the 14th best attended summer season at the box office, and that is where you start to see the impact that big budget flops had on the theatre going masses this year.

What this also has meant is that some movies that were expected to do big business managed to underperform in one way or another, be it from the packed summer schedule, poor timing for a plot of a film, to bloated budgets or just horrible stories.  As a result, this summer is going to be remembered more in a negative light than in a positive light.

With that in mind, what follows are what I consider to be the best three big-budget box office films of the 2013 summer.  What you won’t see here are smaller films that won over theatre goers, like ‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’ or horror fare like ‘The Conjuring’, but films that were made and designed to own the box office during the summer months, in order that they were released.

Star Trek Into Darkness – $228 Million

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The next entry in ‘Star Trek’ lore, and quite possibly the final time director J.J. Abrams will be responsible for the Starship Enterprise as he heads over to helm the forthcoming ‘Star Wars Episode VII’ that is due out tentatively in 2015.

‘Into Darkness’ is a continuation of the 2009 reboot of the series and also a re-invention of the most memorable antagonist from the original series, Khan Noonien Singh, starring Benedict Cumberbatch.  While you may be able to take issue with the perceived “white-washing” of the role originally portrayed by Ricardo Montalban, you can not doubt the ability that Cumberbatch showed in playing the best villain of the summer season.

As a self-admitted Trek fan for more than 20 years now, I am well-versed in Trek lore, and ‘Into Darkness’ definitely provided multiple little homages to previous stories and characters in a slightly different light that were quite enjoyable.  What also benefited the film for myself was the fan screening in IMAX I saw the day before official release.  This meant that the audience that was there was the correct audience to see this film with.

A pleasant mix of laughs, action and character development, ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ is one of my favourite movies of 2013 as well.

Fast & Furious 6 – $238 million

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While it may be the sixth film in the franchise, and as a result of the credit stinger now firmly lodged as the fifth entry timeline wise, ‘Fast & Furious 6’ continues to allow the franchise to exceed all expectations as it continues to rebrand the genre that it fits into.

A movie franchise that was always expected to have a limited shelf life, especially considering the large cast turnovers that impacted the first three entries has become the top franchise currently running at Universal Pictures and is some of the most fun you can have at the theatre during the summer months.

Ever since the franchise was brought back to the theatres with the majority of the cast from the first film in 2009 with ‘Fast and Furious’, the films have continued to increase not only their box office revenue but also their estimated tickets sold, showing real growth in North America, and some fantastic gains worldwide as the last two films have featured Brazil and European locales.

The inclusion of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson to the franchise has allowed it to continue with fresh story lines, and new antagonists in each film has meant that there has not been a chance of repetitiveness, and ‘Fast & Furious 6’ definitely amped up the action which is the eye candy of this franchise now, and continues to pull in the crowds.

Universal is fast-tracking ‘Fast & Furious 7’ for a summer release next year, and the inclusion of Jason Statham, an actor bred to be in these films, will portray the newest antagonist and the film is set to tie ‘Tokyo Drift’ into the timeline fully.

World War Z – $201 million

wwzTo be perfectly honest with you, I am as surprised as you are that ‘World War Z’ occupies the third spot on this list, but that is just how much I enjoyed this fresh take on what is typically a genre of film that I avoid.

Many of you have probably heard about the bloated budget that soared north of $200 million, or the fact that they reshot the entire third act of the film, or saw how the marketing for the film didn’t really highlight the fact that it was a zombie flick.  The thing that ‘World War Z’ managed to do was make absolutely none of that matter in the end.

I have always personally thought that Brad Pitt is a tad overrated as an actor, but that definitely never crossed my mind during ‘World War Z’.  I feel that Pitt managed to not overshadow the film, despite the various hats he was wearing during the making of it, and actually brought a very even level to the main character in this movie.

I really enjoyed ‘World War Z’ and its fresh take on zombieism as a virus and not just flesh eating monsters, which brought a more sci-fi action vibe to the film, and that is clearly what many others thought as well.

 

In the end, there was definitely some entertaining fare at the theatre this summer, but these three films truly stand out for me.

For all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer, and watch for my article about big budget flops later this week.  Cheers.