GOING DOWN IN FRAMES: Weighing in on summer movies

The Daily News

It’s hard to find enough time to view all the films required to make a great list. From Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium” to Chan-wook Park’s mysterious “Stoker,” I have missed my share of movies this year. And while the list is unfinished and in need of serious work as the rest of the year progresses, the films below deserve mentioning regardless of where they will ultimately fall at the end of the year.

1. “Before Midnight”

Directed by Richard Linklater

Starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke

When I first discovered Linklater’s trilogy of movies earlier this year, I was impressed. The films follow different stages of a romance between the same characters that happen to follow actual time. The first in 1995, “Before Sunrise,” was a study on falling in love and the hope that it will find a way somehow. The sequel in 2004, “Before Sunset,” quickly became one of my favorite movies after a flawless third act. While “Before Midnight” features conflict not seen before between Hawke’s Jesse and Delpy’s Céline, it does so realistically. Linklater poses questions that the audience assumes many older couples go through after years of romance.

2. “Upstream Color”

Directed by Shane Carruth

Starring Amy Seimetz and Shane Carruth

My first experience with director Shane Carruth, who also directed 2004’s “Primer,” was a wonderful surprise. “Upstream Color” is far from an easy film to digest. The nonlinear narrative structure makes the first watch a challenge, but the journey and the development of the characters is so worth it. Carruth doesn’t give you any easy answers to the numerous questions he poses. But the identity crisis that the character faces isn’t easy, and it’s important for the audience to feel that sense of mystery.

3. “Mud”

Directed by Jeff Nichols

Starring Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan and Reese Witherspoon

My expectations of this were so high that even though it’s third on my list, I was still disappointed. Director Jeff Nichols has quickly become one of my favorite filmmakers after 2011’s near-perfect “Take Shelter” and his strong debut “Shotgun Stories.” Mud follows suit with a extremely well done coming-of-age story with a brilliant performance from Sheridan as Ellis and another strong effort from McConaughey as the superstitious Mud. One of Nichols’ greatest abilities is immersing the audience in the world and story he has created. And while the ending seems hastily put together to push the climax, the performances and directorial work are some of the best of the year.

4. “Spring Breakers”

Directed by Harmony Korine

Starring James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine

I don’t expect many to agree with me on “Spring Breakers,” but it turned into one of my favorite watches of 2013, despite its flaws. The important thing for the audience is to realize how little the actual plot says about this film. For better or worse, the directorial touches and the setting created by Harmony Korine carry this film. It feels like an extended music video, making comments about American and spring break culture. There is one scene in particular, where three of the friends rob a store to pay for their spring break vacation. The scene is shot flawlessly, following the getaway drive and flashbacks later to showcase the type of violence the three were unexpectedly capable of. This film contains some of my favorite standalone scenes of the year.

5. “The Place Beyond the Pines”

Directed by Derek Cianfrance

Starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes and Ben Mendelsohn

There may not be a film in 2013 as ambitious as Derek Cianfrance’s “The Place Beyond the Pines.” The story is separated into three acts with the first two following different fathers, Gosling and Cooper, facing different moral dilemmas. The movie is rather flawed, however. The plot and direction gets less focused after the first act and it’s a bit long. The third act, which is what makes this film so ambitious, doesn’t satisfy the same way the first two acts of the film do. It’s still a good film, but one that left me a little disappointed in its outcome.


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