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Nebraska

March 3, 2014 2 comments

By: Addison WylieNebraskaPoster

I’ve been selling Nebraska to people as “a charming version of Fargo without the violence”.  That gets attention fairly quickly.

Alexander Payne’s drama, however, is more quaint than quirky.  Nebraska’s prominent road trip involving a distracted father Woody (played by Bruce Dern) and his patiently courteous son David (played by Will Forte) coasts along flat landscapes.  The two converse about the past and the exciting current possibilities of million dollar winnings Woody received in the mail.  The relationship between Dern and Forte is just one of the many likeable building blocks to this heavenly appealing film.

Practically everyone doubts Woody’s grand prize, saying that it’s a sham.  Woody’s wife Kate (played by June Squibb) is also part of the crowd, often reminding her dullard husband of his unhelpful, checked-out personality.

David has a feeling that Woody’s prize is bologna too, but he can’t help but go along with his father’s happiness.  David doesn’t hope to see his Dad fail.  He’s going along for the ride because he shares the same sort of dream chasing.  He even tells his mother he just wants to give his old man hope.

Payne shows his audience how far different types of hereditary characteristics can travel.  We meet the men of the Grant family throughout the movie.  The clan can be often seen together moderately stimulated by television while hesitantly trying to make small talk.  During these moments, we observe that David – while taking on his father’s traits – can see the pattern.

Nebraska is wise, but also very funny.  Screenwriter Bob Nelson understands the nature of telling dry readings, and Payne knows perfectly well how to direct his actors in accordance to the script.

Once Dern and Forte are set in scenarios that cause them to put their mission on hold, the movie turns into a collection of vignetted character driven pieces.  We visit a cemetery where Kate calls out the dead.  She remembers the flaws over strengths, but never with cynicism.  Another scene has David and brother Ross (played by Bob Odenkirk) retrieving “stolen” equipment and leaving their worried parents to cover for them.  Actually, this sneaky sequence plays out as a cuter version of Sideways’ unforgettable wallet sting – also directed by Payne.

Nebraska doesn’t feel like a movie that pretentiously puts its story aside, but rather understands that development – not comedy – is the main priority.  We see Forte and Dern go through extensive characterizations.  Like Forte’s David, Nelson and Payne are patient with how the pieces play out, making each step convincing.  This is what separates the drama from other family adventures that follow a routine of “drive, stop, make the audience laugh, drive again”.

The cinematography is also a stand out.  It’s beautifully shot in black-and-white giving the composed film an antiqued look.  The shooting style adds to the film’s plainness without making the movie appear drab itself.

You often hear people describing a filmmaker’s movie as “a film with a warm heart and a kind soul”, and it couldn’t be more true with Nebraska.  Alexander Payne’s film had me smiling throughout and I was quite swept up by how honest the film was being with its bare portrayal of a family tree rooted in the outskirts of Americana.  It’s touching and delightful.  I dare you not to be grinning by the final frames.

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Wylie Writes’ Ten Best Movies of 2013

March 2, 2014 1 comment

BestOf2013

By: Addison Wylie

Now that we’ve recognized the bad movies that were slingshot at audiences last year, it’s time to move on and engulf ourselves in the cream of the crop.

2013 introduced a wide variety of great films to audiences.  I feel like I say that every year, but as I scour my selected picks, the only thing these movies share are the odd genre they’re grouped in.

Take documentaries, for example.  Audiences were shown terrific autobiographies that opened their subjects like books.  André Gregory: Before and After Dinner was one that caught my interest.  Gregory is a writer, an actor, a director, an all around theatrical wiz, yet he presents himself as such a humble human being who could easily sweep the average movie goer off their feet.  Director Cindy Kleine doesn’t have to stretch to find a comfortable groove for this pleasant doc.

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Nicky’s Family wasn’t necessarily a straightforward autobiography like André Gregory: Before and After Dinner, but it told a revolutionary story involving Nicholas Winton.  Winton, who rescued Jewish children before WWII, is shown in high regard with Matej Mináč’s film.  Nicky’s Family may look like something you’d find on PBS on a Sunday afternoon, but the doc’s importance could impact a sold-out stadium.

Rounding out the list of sensational documentaries was Lucy Walker’s The Crash Reel, a film that snuck onto our radars when the year was winding down.  The message about the importance of safety during extreme sports follows alongside snowboarder Kevin Pearce’s inspirational story.  Walker’s doc is incredible, and you’ll never want to take your eyes off of it.

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There were a few independent films that caught my attention and impressed me with their storytelling.  The Oxbow Cure, for instance, is a film that moves deliberately slow.  However, Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas were able to chill me to the bone with their frigid settings and drawn out creeping.

Sally El Hosaini’s My Brother the Devil was a fantastic feature film debut, providing superb performances from actors who could rationalize their drastic arcs quite well.  Sean Garrity’s Blood Pressure was a worthy-enough thriller with an anchoring turn from Michelle Giroux.  The film has its flaws, but I enjoyed myself all the way through this low budget drama.

And, Tower.  I desperately wanted Tower and actor Derek Bogart to receive more recognition for their contributions to Toronto’s indie scene.  It was an uncomfortable, often amusing and unhinged jarring character study from filmmaker Kazik Radwanski.  I’ve seen a lot of fine performances from lots of actors in 2013, but Bogart’s portrayal of a disconnected wanderer stuck with me all year round.

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Of course, I had some mainstream picks.  I thought The Wolf of Wall Street was great fun.  It was a lengthly film, but it showed audiences that Martin Scorsese is still a gutsy filmmaker willing to tackle any genre at any given time.  August: Osage County was another strong contender.  It’s ensemble cast knocked the film out of the park, and frequently had me in stitches.

Blue is the Warmest ColourThe Spectacular Now, and The Way, Way Back were three coming-of-age films that were unforgettable.  All three featured moving performances from everyone involved, the creative minds behind the flicks were fearless, and nothing was sugarcoated.  Movie goers could sense the filmmakers treating the characters with earnest gratitude, which helped sustain the staying power of each flick.

But, enough lollygaging. Let’s take a look at what fleshed out the top spots of 2013.

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Underrated Movies:

Everyday is Like Sunday
It’s A Disaster!
Nicky’s Family
Texas Chainsaw 3D
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Honourable Mentions:

#15. Tatsumi
#14. Charles Bradley: Soul of America
#13. To The Wonder
#12. Nebraska
#11. Short Term 12

Wylie Writes’ Ten Best Movies of 2013

#10. Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers acts as a statement about the impatient youth of today, and about the need for constant change amongst a modern younger generation.

It’s also a stylistic blast and an interesting conversation starter.  Filmmaker Harmony Korine reassures his fans that he isn’t leaving, and he brilliantly introduces younger audiences to a new way to look at movies.

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#9. Her

Spike Jonze’s poignant work is a personal film about an impersonal society. 

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#8. Downloaded

Downloaded is a fantastic documentary on the brink of a remarkable level involving the rise and the inevitable fall of the file trading peer-to-peer service Napster.

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#7. 12 Years a Slave

An absolutely brutal, but rewarding watch that’s extremely well acted by its vast ensemble.

Filmmaker Steve McQueen shows an anthropological side to the relationship between an owner and his slave, as well as a fascinating, stomach churning outlook on how easy it was for people to consider other people “possessions”.

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#6. We Are What We Are

Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are shows a hauntingly humanistic portrayal of something that’s downright unfathomable: cannibalism.  The film is an excellent slow burn with a jaw-dropping payoff.

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#5. A Hijacking

Unfortunately overshadowed, A Hijacking is a riveting docudrama that I hope gets the respect and attention it deserves despite ingredients that some may be seasick about.

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#4. Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club is an all around exceptional piece of work with flawless lead performances by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. 

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#3. Mud

Like the film’s stoic bluegrass backdrop, Mud resonates quietly.  It’s an outstanding movie with phenomenal acting and careful direction.

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#2. Before Midnight

Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight is brilliantly observant with its authentic portrayal of two people who love – and will always love – each other.  The screenplay is simply one of the best.

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#1. The Place Beyond the Pines

A complete 180° for filmmaker Derek Cianfrance.  This sweeping drama about redemption, fatherhood, and “doing the right thing” is absorbing and never drops the ball.  A true classic in the making.

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‘Ten Best Movies of 2013’ Artwork by: Sonya Padovani