by Sam Juliano
Warmer temperatures have oddly taken hold on the east coast as Christmas Day 2013 approaches. As always the site would like to thank the incomparable Dee Dee for keeping the holiday spirit and context alive and well on the sidebar and with the winter landscape on the main pages, and for all her other pertinent and timely movie-related announcements connected to events and on-line activities. We at Wonders in the Dark would like to extend best wishes for the holidays to all our friends and faithful readers. A special thanks to everyone who has taken time from their busy schedules to say hello by e mail or leave comments under our posts. Our entire family will be spending the 25th at the nearby home of my 83 year-old father with my brothers and sister also in attendance with their own families. I look forward to sharing Christmas Day stories with everyone on next week’s MMD. Again Happy Holidays to All.
I will finally be sending a group e mail to all those who participated in the western countdown later this week with the specifications for the upcoming ‘Romantic Film’ countdown, a project that will launch some time in April of 2014.
The prestige season for the cinema is winding down, with still a few more vital offerings for Christmas and the days leading up to New Year’s day. Lucille and I (with the kids) managed to take in two of the most important titles this past week:
Her ***** (Friday night) Union Square Cinemas
American Hustle **** 1/2 (Sunday afternoon) Starplex
Two of the year’s most highly-praised films, and both winners from a few of the critics’ awards’ groups tuned out to be most impressive.
I was no fan of the frivolous “Silver Linings Playbook” and have not to this point been much of a David O. Russell adherent, but AMERICAN HUSTLE is by some distance his finest film. This buoyant, funny and farcical, relentless and deliriously entertaining film has style to spare and does a good job in homaging the film making of Martin Scorsese and particularly “Good Fellas.” An audacious examination of corruption in New Jersey back in the 70’s, the film boasts a fabulous soundtrack with appealing pop tunes and terrific use of cars, hair and outfits, and the cast is to die for: Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Bradley Cooper, and even Robert DeNiro in a short turn all deliver top rank performances.
Then there’s Spike Jonze’s HER with Joaquin Phoenix in the lead and Scarlet Johansson in support. This alternately melancholic and humorous examination of oneself is wistful and poetic, and American cinema at its most profound and engaging. The central deceit unexpectedly turns into something as profound as life itself, and Phoenix gives an extraordinarily applied and moving performance. Playing it straight with deadpan humor seems to be a vital artistic decision. Without question one of the three or four best films of the year.