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Kicking the Tweets
Tuesday
Dec312013

KICKING THE SEAT's 13 Best Films of 2013!

At the beginning of 2013, I had serious doubts about the year ahead in film. Aside from a packed summer slate, which promised one of the most mind-blowingly raucous three months in cinema history, there wasn't a whole lot to get excited about. Fast-forward to the vantage point of New Year's Eve, where the reality of that season comes into sharp focus as a depressing wash of mega-budget half-measures and spat-upon hopes. But thanks to a few off-brand gems in the spring, and a slate of Oscar-bait pictures stronger than any in recent memory, this has turned out to be one of the most entertaining, insightful, and soulful years at the movies.

My greatest surprise has been the wealth of documentary features. At one point, I'd considered making a separate list just for those, but there've been so many I didn't see that doing so felt disingenuous.

Speaking of which, now's the time for my annual "Best of List" caveat: even in my recently awarded capacity as a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, I wasn't able to watch every movie that came out this year. In fact, I've been told I skipped some pretty big ones. So, if you read the list below and wonder, "How could you not have picked [SUCH AND SUCH]", I ask that you please A) consult the Stub Drawer to see if I even reviewed the movie and B) if you don't find it listed there, rest assured that I either didn't catch it (and that I'm likely very, very sorry for having missed it), or it didn't cut the mustard for reasons contained in the review.

You may also wonder, "Why a list of 13, instead of the traditional 10?" Simply put: indecision. I wrestled for days with which films to include, and really beat myself up over the final cut. This morning, I realized that I'm under no obligation to do things like everyone else--so I made my own rules. Speaking of which, let's clarify what I mean by the "best" films of 2013:

These are the movies that I not only enjoyed when I first saw them, but which have stuck with me. Some I've seen multiple times. Others, I've not seen since January. Whatever the case, if they made the list, they tickled my inner film nerd, as well as the basest centers of my primordial brain. I offer no apologies, even though you have every right to be concerned with some of my choices. Speaking of which...

13. Movie 43 If you can get past this one, there's a good chance you'll make it through the rest of the list. Yes, Movie 43 is one of the most juvenile, worst-reviewed movies of the year, but I'll be damned if I didn't lose my mind with laughter in a practically empty theatre. With lame comedy after lame comedy shuffling through the multiplex, it was refreshing to see a hard-R, under-the-radar sketch farce featuring tons of mostly duped marquee stars doing stuff that mainstream audiences should never be subjected to.

12. Europa Report Yep, I chose this one over Gravity. My decision wasn't quite the nail-biter you might assume it would've been, though--precisely because Gravity succeeds largely due to big-screen spectacle. I don't know that I'd ever watch it again at home. Europa Report, though, holds up as a beautiful science fiction film and a mystery; a thoughtful, chilling take on the Doomed Space Crew Movie. If you're a fan of what Alfonso Cuarón did with more money than God and top-shelf stars, check out Sebastián Cordero's mini-masterpiece, and be moved and amazed.

11. Upstream Color Writer/director Shane Carruth continues his art-house exploration of the heady sci-fi drama. Fueled by unforgettable performances by Amy Seimetz and Andrew Sensenig, this tale of designer drugs and stolen identity will haunt your dreams and have you begging to know what will come spilling out of the auteur's mind next.

10. The World's End Leave it to Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright to deliver a nutty sci-fi adventure/comedy/horror-movie/bromance that has, at its heart, a black as night message about the dangers of addiction and nostalgia (and addiction to nostalgia). You'll laugh; you'll cry; you'll want to know what happens next in the bug-nuts world the filmmakers only hint at as the end credits start to roll.

9. Cockneys vs. Zombies Speaking of Wright and Pegg, who woulda thunk that a silly little movie called Cockneys vs. Zombies would turn out to not only be a non-knock-off of Shaun of the Dead, but a legitimately fun and superior film? From the animated rock 'n roll comic-book opening (set to the ear-worm-worthy sounds of "Monster" by The Automatic Automatic) to a finale that's as nail-biting as it is preposterous, this tale of undead upheaval in lower-class London is as touching and as screwy as they come. And I challenge anyone not to shed a tear when Alan Ford goes down with a fight.

8. Enough Said Of all the tragedies that befell the movie industry this year, one of the most unfortunate is that we'll never again see James Gandolfini explore roles such as this one. He and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are comedic and dramatic gold in the decade's best rom-com. The performances are unbelievably naturalistic, thanks to Nicole Holofcener's deliciously well-observed screenplay, and the plot only rears its all-too-convenient head briefly--letting us get back to the magic before it wears off.

7. The Act of Killing Quite simply, the most disturbing film I've seen in years. Joshua Oppenheimer's documentary about former warlords confessing their sins through the art of moviemaking may just shake off any faith you have in humanity. Impossible to recommend in good conscience, but sinfully unavoidable as a triumph of the medium.

6. American Hustle You'll spend half the time wondering if David O. Russell's latest is a farce, and the other half begging for a documentary about the real-life con artists who swindled the FBI in the 1970s to avoid jail time and go legit. With powerful, odd-ball performances all around, this is one of the year's most enjoyable, re-watchable films.

5. The Wolf of Wall Street A decade or so removed from American Hustle, you have Martin Scorsese's ode to stock-market excess. A cautionary tale of greed and gullibility, the real-life story of Jordan Belfort (played to unsettling perfection by Leonardo DiCaprio) is hard to watch and harder to comprehend, unless you're paying full attention. Years from now, The Wolf of Wall Street will be hailed as the masterpiece Americans were too stupid to understand.

4. Blue is the Warmest Color No, this didn't make the cut for its seven-minute lesbian sex scene. Blue is the Warmest Color continues 2013's trend towards naturalism in relationship dramas, and centers on a French high-schooler's decade-long relationship with the older art-school chick who awakens forbidden feelings. The stunning Adèle Exarchopoulos' gifts as a performer makes Jennifer Lawrence look like Martin Lawrence, and her chemistry with co-star Léa Seydoux will fail to impress only those who've never loved and lost.

3. The Spectacular Now A sort of unofficial cocktail of 2013's themes (naturalistic acting and writing, troubled relationships, and chemical abuse), The Spectacular Now fires on all cylinders as the year's defining hidden gem. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley give documentary-caliber performances as a doomed teen couple living in a small town and struggling with addiction and family issues (he can't shake alcohol; she can't shake him). Director James Ponsoldt has a new super-fan in me.

2. Inside Llewyn Davis The movie that won my mind and my heart this year, Inside Llewyn Davis is a love-letter to assholes and folk music. The Coen Brothers and Oscar Isaac have created a compelling, unlikable character worth studying for inexplicable reasons. They've also given us a soundtrack of hummable tunes (in cooperation with T-Bone Burnett, Marcus Mumford, and others) that will have you re-playing scenes from the movie in your mind (and struggling to figure out the nine layers of meaning in each).

1. 12 Years a Slave No other movie shook me to the core from start to finish the way Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave did. A masterwork of acting, story, and production design, this story of a free man sold into slavery plays on identity, race, culture, and the limits to which we will go to preserve all three. Chewitel Ejiofor will be at the front of every major performance competition this year, and the only ones who don't get the hype are those who haven't seen his soul-crushing turn here.

Honorable Mentions:

Her

Iron Man 3

The Lone Ranger

Saving Mr. Banks

Oldboy

Tuesday
Nov192013

A CHRISTMAS STORY 30th Anniversary Screening!

Hey, Everyone! On Wednesday, December 4th at 7:30pm,* the Studio Movie Grill in Wheaton, IL will present a special 30th anniversary screening of A Christmas Story

As if seeing Bob Clark's holiday classic on the big screen for only a dollar isn't outrageously cool enough, author Caseen Gaines will be in attendance, signing copies of his brand-new book, A Christmas Story: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic. Oh, and he'll be joined by Ian Petrella, who played "Little Brother Randy" in the film!

As an added bonus, Gaines and Petrella will lead a prizes-packed audience trivia contest immediately following the show!

Be sure to visit the Studio Movie Grill's Web site for tickets and additional information.

It's guaranteed to be a night so exciting, you won't be able to put your arms down!

*As of this writing, the autograph signing is scheduled to start at approximately 6:30pm.

Monday
Jul152013

Indiegogo Campaign: Welcome to Hell!

What happens when an Internet movie critic decides to "nut up or shut up" and make his own damn movie? You can help the world find out by contributing to Glenn Randall Buettner's Indiegogo campaign for Welcome to Hell!

Yes, the host of YouTube's B-Movie Bunker* is getting ready to shoot his first independent short film, which finds Satan giving a grand tour of damnation to his newest unscrupulous visitor. It should be a lot of fun, and Glenn could really use your help in bringing his vision to life!

As with all Indiegogo campaigns, Welcome to Hell will receive all pledged contributions on its closing date, which is just around the corner on Friday, August 2nd. Perk levels include downloads and DVDs of the completed film, as well as producer credits and perhaps the world's most unique shout-out!

With just over two-and-a-half weeks to go, Glenn is almost half-way to his $500 goal. Let's put him over the top, shall we, and see what a die-hard student of cinema can do behind the camera? For more information, check out the Welcome to Hell campaign video below, and visit Indiegogo to contribute. Thanks, everyone, and take care!

*Even if you can't pony up some cash for Welcome to Hell, why not subscribe to Glenn's Naked Hobo Productions channel? There, you'll find more "B-Movie" goodness than you can shove in a bunker!

Friday
Apr122013

Indiegogo Campaign: BAILOUT 2!

Hey, Everyone! Cast your mind back to episode five of the KtS Podcast, on which I interviewed director Sean Patrick Fahey and producer John Titus about their American-financial-crisis documentary, Bailout.

The movie follows Titus and a group of friends on a Vegas-bound road trip, where they blow all the money he saved by not paying his mortgage for several months--money he sees as supporting a corrupt institution. Along the way, they meet people whose fortunes were wrecked by swindle and circumstance, and ask the audience to consider their role in changing a rigged system.

During our conversation, Sean mentioned that he'd like to follow up with an examination of how troubled European markets have adversely impacted the United States.

Well, less than a year later, a sequel is in the works, and you can help make it happen!

Over the next few weeks, Bailout 2's Indiegogo campaign will raise funds to send RT's Max Keiser and a new group of comedic raconteurs on a cross-continent adventure through hard-hit areas like Greece, Ireland, and Cyprus. They'll explore the roots of various financial disasters that are gradually (and not-so-gradually) making their way to our shores, and look at what other countries have done to claw their way back from the brink of ruin.

Campaign perks range from signed DVDs and posters to official producer credits to dinner with Max Keiser! The biggest perk of all, though, is helping fund what is sure to be a fun and fascinating movie made by passionate, talented, grass-roots filmmakers. If that sounds enticing, check out the Bailout trailer below, then head on over to the Indiegogo page to learn more about Bailout 2.

Note: You can also learn more about the original Bailout (and order the DVD) at USABailout.com.

Thursday
Apr042013

Projecting Grief

A Tribute to Roger Ebert (1942-2013)

Even Roger Ebert's death is a testament to great storytelling: in a plot twist few of us saw coming, the seventy-year-old bastion of modern film criticism died just two days after posting a touching hiatus announcement in the Chicago Sun-Times. He said doctors had discovered even more cancer in his body, and the aggressive treatments he required warranted taking a "leave of presence"--handing over the regular movie-reviewing duties to a rotating cast of hand-picked favorites, while occasionally returning to write about the jucier pictures.

He also mentioned ongoing developments in the "Ebert brand", which didn't interest me all that much. He was a man, after all, and not a commodity. But in the Internet Era, I guess we're all just ones and zeroes, the marketed and the marketed to.

For a few moments, I wondered about Ebert's career, and if he would have achieved living-legend status had he come of age as a critic today. Or would his never having started as a professional reviewer in 1967 denied his beloved career the cache it has now, relegating "film critic" to the same status as "collectible-candy-wrapper expert"?

I owe my passion for and understanding of the movies to two men: Roger Ebert and my high school Film Studies teacher, Richard C. Jones. Both loved watching, dissecting, and discussing films with people whose minds had yet to be blown by their wisdom. As a kid, I would eagerly await the Friday paper and jump right to Ebert's column for a witty takedown of that weekend's boneheaded new releases (or even an endorsement of something worthwhile). I took that foundation with me to Mr. Jones's class, and for a solid year was blessed to have two brilliant, warm, and humorous voices guide me through the classics.

A few years later, I had the privilege of meeting Ebert at a critics' screening of The Fifth Element. I couldn't believe we were breathing the same air, much less sitting a few feet from one another. After waffling and whining to my girlfriend in the minutes leading up to showtime, I got it together just enough to approach him. He was kind, engaged, and curious about me, and accepted my stammering flattery with a coolness that suggested I wasn't the first sweaty teenager to say "Hello".

(I met Gene Siskel at the same screening. And while I won't use a memorial piece to speak ill of the dead, I'll gladly do so if you hit me up in person.)

Over time, I would meet my hero again at book signings and see him on-stage at his Overlooked Film Festival in Urbana, IL (now called "Ebertfest"). Even as cancer and the ensuing surgeries robbed him of the ability to speak and made him, frankly, uncomfortable to look at, he was always ROGER EBERT--a smooth and insightful writer who proved that the human body is just a shell for the wild spirit within us all. As an out-and-proud atheist, I doubt he'd agree with that particular analysis, but he always made me feel connected to a larger something-or-other after every encounter.

I don't use the word "hero" lightly. When I made the ludicrous decision to become a film critic, Ebert was my guy--not necessarily in terms of style, but in the way he always put himself on the page; the way he made it okay to look at movies subjectively, rather than pretend that they were watched by cold, divinely selected arbiters of taste who didn't bring actual life experiences into the theatre with them.

Mostly, I admired his ability to bring me along for the ride of his pieces, even if I didn't agree with some of them. I used to joke that all the near-death experiences in recent years had made him so appreciative of life that he'd allowed himself to love some pretty heinous trash. But even where our tastes didn't align, I could rarely argue with his arguments' merits.

Sidebar: Earlier this afternoon, I was excoriated on a podcast. Those of you who follow this site are aware of some recent Internet drama involving my reviews and the producer of Swamphead. Well, that producer has a weekly talk show, and on last night's episode, he took a couple minutes towards the end to tear my abilities as a film critic to shreds. He didn't mention me by name (not that it would have mattered if he had), but in those profane, horrific moments, I felt about as low, angry, and sad as I had in a long, long time.

I seriously considered throwing myself off of something tall, but then I read about Ebert's passing. Emotions being a mystery and all, the news kind of cheered me up. Not that I'm happy he's gone, but thinking about Roger Ebert has always made me happy. He's weathered decades of criticism, parody, and hatred, but still went out on top--loving his job, living his passion, and not letting hurt feelings get in the way of writing.

So, yes, unsurprisingly, my non-obituary for Roger Ebert wound up being mostly about me. But I can think of no greater tribute to one of the century's greatest thinkers, writers, and supporters of the arts than to soldier on in the face of doubt and to never forget how cool it is to sit in the dark and watch movies all day.

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