Month in review: December films

Due to the holidays and a substantially less demanding workload, I was able to watch more than my usual amount of films, reaching a total of 17 films in 31 days (I actually watched Movie 43 in December, but decided to include it in my previous monthly recap).

The average score for the last month of 2013 was a respectable 2.88. However, I only watched two films that cracked 4 out of 5 or more, with only Reservoir Dogs as a clear candidate to comfortably make my much-delayed Top 250 favorite film list. Worthy of notice is that December was also very 2013-heavy, with 12 films released in the last solar year, and only one film, the aforementioned Reservoir Dogs, that was released before the turn of the 21st century.

Here are the films in the order in which I watched them:

THE FACTORY (2012) [2.5/5]

The Factory

A predictable and highly forgettable film about a policeman (John Cusack) in the quest to catch a sadistic criminal that has also abducted his daughter.
Nothing about the film is either remarkable or terribly original, while the ending is not completely surprising either. Average at best.

THE VICIOUS KIND (2009) [3/5]

The Vicious Kind

Starring Adam Scott and Brittany Snow, The Vicious Kind is a romantic comedy with an indie, almost “hipster” feel to it that navigates some murky waters without much of an emotional payoff.
If anything, the film greatest asset lies in its offbeat characters, which are all but predictable.

MUD (2013) [3/5]

Film still from Mud featuring Matthew McConaughey

A handful of powerful performances make this film better than it really is. Unlike most critics, I did not think it was as rewarding an experience given the hype.
I found especially troubling how some plot avenues are opened not to be explored with any real depth. Matthew McConaughey delivers another very good performance (how many in a row now?)

WHAT MAISIE KNEW (2013) [3.5/5]

What Maisie Knew

A very sad film about a cute little girl who sadly finds herself in the midst of a nasty divorce and unloving parents.
What Maisie Knew forms characters with depth and believable personalities that we can relate to. The film is refreshing in that it is centered on the performance of the child actress, often with a camera close to ground that effectively gives us her point of view on what happens around her.
I just wish the script took a little less time to resolve itself.

STRAIGHT A’s (2013) [2/5]

Straight A's

In its attempts of comedy, Straight A’s often falls flat. The acting itself is almost laughably bad, with Ryan Phillipe front and center in what could very well be the poorest performance of his uneven career.
In general, the film feels messy and rushed, which in turn makes it even harder for us to connect with any of these characters.

EUROPA REPORT (2013) [3/5]

Europa Report

Yet another film that is presented to us as if we were watching a documentary about a largely failed attempt to explore Europa, a satellite of Jupiter that has long captivated scientists due to its very peculiar environment.

Europa Report makes use of a whole lot of tricks to gives us a film that feels more expensive than it is, concentrating on the struggles and the spirit of the team of astronauts rather than on their visually impressive travels.

Though the story tries to be inspirational and emotionally affecting, it barely scratches its goals due to some poor sequencing, some uneven acting and a very unrewarding ending.

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY (2013) [3.5/5]

Monsters University

A surprisingly charming sequel to the original Pixar film took me back to the colorful lives of Mike and Sully when they first met in college.

Though the assortment of characters never fails to entertain us, the story lacks the emotional punch of the first, as much as it feels a bit more formulaic and a less creative piece overall.

ANOTHER YEAR (2010) [3.5/5]

Another Year

Filled with extraordinary performances, Another Year is a deeply affecting film about the life of a happily married couple and some of their relatives and friends over the course of a year.

The concept of the film is rather interesting, very well delivered and with characters that are perfectly relatable. However, Another Year lacks the punch and excitement that may invite some repeat viewings. Perhaps it feels too realistic and modest to leave a lasting impression. The actress Lesley Manville delivers a great performance as Mary.

IMDB Top 250: RESERVOIR DOGS (1992) [4.5/5]

Reservoir Dogs

♦ Candidate to the Blog of Big Ideas’ Top 250 Films Ever ♦

I finally got around to watching the first feature film of Quentin Tarantino and I can’t say I was in the least bit disappointed. A full review coming soon!

THE HUNT (2013) [4/5]

Mads Mikkelsen

♦ Candidate to the Blog of Big Ideas’ Top 250 Films Ever ♦

A deeply suspenseful film about a decent man who is wrongly accused of child molestation.
The German character actor Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal TV series, Valhalla Rising) delivers a powerful performance that is engaging and easy to empathize with. He showcases his range, and so does the rest of the cast.
In addition, the film provides us some food for thought, challenging our preconceived notions on how to best protect our children.

DOG POUND (2010) [3.5/5]

Dog Pound

A surprisingly powerful film about troubled youth dealing with the sad realities of a correctional facility.
The way the story develops suggests a critique about the way in which these institutions are run, and how they don’t do much to reform our youth.
In general, the film does come across a bit formulaic and simplistic, taking large leaps of faith to make its point across.
Look out for the performance of Adam Butcher, who delivers an anger-prone teenager very convincingly and with great emotional depth.

THE KITCHEN (2012) [2/5]

The Kitchen

A terribly underwhelming indie film starring Laura Prepon (That’s 70′s Show, Orange is the New Black) and Dreama Walker (Compliance, Bitch in Apartment 23).

As the title suggests, most of the film takes place in and around the main character’s kitchen that she shares with kooky roommates, and that she opens to friends and strangers for the celebration of her birthday immediately after a bad break-up.

Generally, the film does not know what it is, walking the line between slapstick comedy that tries to be hip and relevant (evidently so), with some pretty ineffective and superficial drama.

THE KINGS OF SUMMER (2013) [3/5]

The Kings of Summer

As much as I wanted to connect to the main characters, it was difficult for me to do so given that they all seem motivated by a rather superficial disdain for their parents.
The bits and pieces of comedy provided some chuckles but never genuine laughter, while the drama only occasionally hints at true emotional depth.

Still, it was entertaining enough to merit above average marks.

THE LIFEGUARD (2013) [2.5/5]

Lifeguard

A “dramedy” about a young woman who goes back to her hometown after a failed stint as a writer in New York City.
To say the film is formulaic and predictable would be an understatement as I was able to anticipate every single plot development that it threw at me. At the same time, the main character’s struggles bordered on the annoying, which made it hard for me to empathize with her confusion and lack of maturity.

THE ENGLISH TEACHER (2013) [2/5]

The English Teacher

A very underwhelming film that incredibly managed to sign up two heavy-hitters like Greg Kinnear and Julianne Moore.
The stakes are so low on this film that it is damn hard to give a second thought to any of the character’s struggles, all of whom don’t go beyond simplistic caricatures.

ELYSIUM (2013) [3/5]

Elysium

I was a bit disappointed by the follow-up film to District 9 by director Neill Blomkamp. Once again, Shartlo Copley makes a comeback, and actually upstages everyone in the cast to deliver a wonderfully entertaining evil character that should have gotten more screen time.
In the title role, Matt Damon largely under-performs, delivering no more than a run-of-the-mill performance with little to show for in terms of depth or intensity.
While District 9 was rugged and emotionally suspenseful, Elysium favored a more polished look (thanks to a substantially larger budget) in detriment of its story. Only a couple of action-packed sequences save the film from total mediocrity.

Best Film of the month: Reservoir Dogs

Worst film: a tie between The English Teacher & Straight A’s

- N

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4 thoughts on “Month in review: December films

  1. THE HUNT is so powerful, especially the performance by Mikkelsen, glad you got to see it. I hope it does well at the oscars, at the moment it looks like it will only get a nom for foreign language film.

    I would probably give THE VICIOUS KIND a higher rating, I didn’t find it predictable as you did. I think it’s Adam Scott’s best performance(that I’ve seen so far)

  2. I think you may have watched even more films than me last month. Some random thoughts:

    I wanted to love The Vicious Kind since I’m a big fan of Adam Scott, but it kind of fell flat for me, too. 3/5 sounds about right for that one.

    I really enjoyed Mud. Maybe not top 10 material as a lot of critics are saying, but I still liked it quite a bit. It’s been a lot of fun watching McConaughey’s resurgence lately.

    I also saw The Hunt last month and it blew me away. One of my favorite films from last year, easily.

  3. Nice recap here Niels! Matthew McConaughey was fantastic in MUD, amazing that he could’ve been double-nominated for his performance in that one too. I like The Kings of Summer a lot, which is surprising as it wasn’t really my cup of tea at first glance.

    I was disappointed by Elysium but yeah, The Hunt was phenomenal! I was rooting for it to win Best Foreign Language at the Globes last night, bummer it didn’t win :(

  4. Nice recap here Niels! Matthew McConaughey was fantastic in MUD, amazing that he could’ve been double-nominated for his performance in that one too. I like The Kings of Summer a lot, which is surprising as it wasn’t really my cup of tea at first glance.

    I was disappointed by Elysium but yeah, The Hunt was phenomenal! I was rooting for it to win Best Foreign Language at the Globes last night, bummer it didn’t win :(

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