The top 10 films of 2014 (so far)


It’s June 30, the halfway point in 2014. So, although there’s many more movies to come in 2014 (including two I’ve already seen that will almost certainly make my Top 10 at the end of the year), it’s a good chance to take stock of my 10 favorite films thus far.

I’m not including films I saw at festivals, such as “Boyhood” and “Life Itself,” since they haven’t been commercially released yet. I’ve marked the ones out on DVD in case you missed them. Let me know in comments if I’ve overlooked any good ones.

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The five movies you need to see in Madison: June 27-July 3, 2014


Breaking Away” (Thursday, July 3, 7 p.m, Chazen Museum of Art) — I just read in the New Yorker that “Breaking Away” was one of Darren Aronofsky’s favorite films growing up, which is something of a surprise given the dark places that the “Black Swan” and “Requiem for a Dream” director goes. But “Breaking Away” is a lot of people’s favorite films, in part because it mixes a redemptive sports story with a naturalistic look at working-class teens living in a college town. FREE!

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“Obvious Child”: Trying to find the laughs in “shmashmortion”


“Obvious Child” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. R, 1:23, two stars out of four.

I like Jenny Slate a lot. The former “Saturday Night Live” cast member is pretty bold about playing larger-than-life, often spectacularly unlikable characters, such as Jean-Ralphio’s sister on “Parks and Recreation.”

Gillian Robespierre’s “Obvious Child” is a great showcase for Slate’s voice while giving her a more down-to-earth character to play. The banter is often fast and filthy, but still finds room for an underlying sweet tone. But the film’s fearlessness trips itself up when it moves into hot-button territory — abortion — and tries to maintain the same jokey say-anything spirit.

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“Ida”: Before moving forward, a young nun must explore a terrible past


“Ida” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. PG-13, 1:20, three and a half stars out of four.

At first, Ida is barely there. Pawel Pawilkowski shoots the opening scenes of “Ida” with the characters at the bottom of the frame, a lot of empty space above them. Which is fitting, because they are nuns in a Polish convent; having renounced the earthly world, they are focused heavenward, on the world that awaits ththe eem.

Except that, for some of us, the earthly world is not so easy to forget.

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Instant Gratification: “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” and four more good movies to watch on Netflix Instant


Pick of the week: “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead — “Croupier” star Clive Owen and writer-director Mike Hodges reteamed for this pitch-dark 2003 British noir, about a homeless man seeking vengeance against the gangster (Malcolm McDowell) who drove his younger brother to commit suicide.

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“Nymphomaniac”: Come for the graphic sex, stay for the fly fishing tips


“Nymphomaniac” plays Saturday night (“Part I” at 7 p.m, “Part II” at 9:30 p.m.) at the Union South Marquee Theatre, 1308 W. Dayton St. as part of the UW-Cinematheque summer series. Not rated, 4 hours 2 minutes, three stars out of four. FREE!

You know how cartoon characters like Elmer Fudd will have a little Elmer Fudd angel on one shoulder and a little Elmer Fudd devil on the other? Lars Von Trier has that. Only he has a devil on one shoulder and another devil on the other.

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The five movies you have to see in Madison: June 20-26, 2014


“The Rover” (all week, Point, Star Cinema, Sundance) — 2010’s “Animal Kingdom,” a brutal Australian gangster movie that makes “Goodfellas” seem sentimental, knocked the wind out of me when I first saw it. Writer-director David Michod returns with this post-collapse Western, as outlaws dominate a lawless and impoverished Australian outback. Guy Pearce plays a desperate man who has his car stolen by bandits, and enlists one of the bandits’ young brother (a decidedly unglamorous Robert Pattinson) to help him seek vengeance.

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“Judex”: A master filmmaker honors (and subverts) a silent classic


“Judex” was one of several silent movie serials made by director Louis Feuillade, and it left a major impression on one of the many French childen who went to the cinema in the 1910s. That child was Georges Franju, who would later go on to make the classic chiller “Eyes Without a Face.” After “Eyes,” he decided to make his own “Judex.”

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Instant Gratification: “World War Z” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix Instant


Pick of the week: “World War Z” — My full review is here. That rare summer blockbuster that doesn’t insult your intelligence (like this summer’s “Edge of Tomorrow,” this fresh zombie thriller has Brad Pitt globe-hopping a planet covered in zombie hordes, who don’t just chase the living but swarm en masse like fire ants. This leads to some well-executed setpieces, including a massive attack in Israel and a satisfyingly low-key climax in which Pitt plays cat and mouse with zombies at a World Health Organization facility. Note: Netflix also has the unrated version available for streaming.

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The five films you need to see in Madison; June 13-19, 2014


They Live” (7 p.m., Thursday, Chazen Museum of Art) — “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubblegum.” As John Moe pointed out on Twitter, why would anyone need to go to a special place to chew bubblegum? And, having gone there, why would they forget to stock up on gum? It just seems like poor planning. That detail aside, John Carpenter’s 1988 cult classic is both a kick-ass sci-fi action movie (including a hilariously long Keith David-Roddy Piper fight scene) and a sly political satire, where the aliens enslave us not with laser guns, but by taking over as the one-percenters. It’s a highly entertaining film, maybe Carpenter’s last great film, and a fitting kickoff to the summer Cinematheque series, which will run Thursday through Saturdays this summer at the Chazen and Union South Marquee. FREE; see the full schedule at  Continue reading