Film

Hidden Gems from the First Half of 2013

Before we get all caught up in the onslaught of fall films, we should take a few moments to do what the Academy (usually) doesn't: remember the first nine months of the year.

Oscar season is officially upon us. Last week's release of rumored Oscar frontrunner 12 Years a Slave along with the critical and financial behemoth that Gravity has become since its early October release have emphatically stated the start of the awards race. Things only get hotter from here. In the next two weeks, we'll get Ridley Scott's The Counselor, Naomi Watts in Diana, Cannes-winner Blue is the Warmest Color and Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club. The films destined to be honored at the Dolby in February will be out soon for all to see. So what better time to talk about...Gangster Squad?

Before we get all caught up in the onslaught of fall films, we should take a few moments to do what the Academy (usually) doesn't: remember the first 9 months of the year. This isn't a Top 10 list. These are films that, if given a marketing campaign, could slip into the race despite their odds-defying early release. Starting with January and working our way up to October, PopMatters will try to remind you of a few gems from early 2013—and a few wannabes who flopped. Maybe they’ll even be one or two you’ll want to champion yourself. I know I’ve found mine.

January

Oh, January. The start of a new year signifies new possibility, usually for the best. That is, unless you’re at the cinema. January movies—not the prior year’s films finally reaching a theater near you, but actual films of the recently commenced year—are uniformly terrible. Just look at the pathetic slate from 2013: Texas Chainsaw 3D, which I’m guessing you forgot was a real movie; A Haunted House, which everyone wishes they could forget; and Movie 43, a film whose celebrity populace wishes could be forgotten from their resume.

Yet among the rubble of toppled dreams stands one wobbly, woulda-coulda-shoulda-been contender. Gangster Squad was originally intended to compete in the 2012 Oscar race, but the Ryan Gosling flick was pushed from its Oscar-friendly September slot after the real-life events of Aurora, Colorado paralleled the film’s climactic conclusion a little too closely. The reshoots forced a release change that may have actually helped. The flaws in director Ruben Fleischer’s noir-wannabe were glaring next to a theater only half-full of Oscar contenders in January 2013. They would have been overwhelming and, possibly, even more financially damaging had he gone head to head with the 2012 slate of Looper, End of Watch, and The Master.

Now, no one is saying you should expect to see anyone or anything from Gangster Squad honored in this year’s awards race (other than a deserved Razzie nomination for screenwriter Will Beall). The reviews were too damning, the audience too disinterested (only $46 million in the U.S.), and the cast too hopeful we all let this one slide. If politics were set aside, though, Gangster Squad could compete with the best of ‘em for Costume Design and…that’s it. This super straight film critic with a flair for fashion may have been brainwashed by how good Gosling looked in his killer three-piece suits + boutonniere, but period pieces always play well at the Academy and everyone involved here showcased their couture quite well. It won’t happen, though.

If forced to pick an actor out of this respectable-if-limited ensemble, I would again point to Gosling. In fact, if asked to choose one of his roles from this year to vote for, I would go with Gangster Squad over The Place Beyond the Pines (which we’ll discuss later) and Only God Forgives (which I’ll never speak of, think about, or give any recognition to ever again). Both of his more artsy pieces rubbed me the wrong way, with the former being too low-key and the latter being too God awful. While he may not have been at his transformative finest in Gangster Squad, he carried the film out of the January trash to “summer fun”-level entertainment with only his charisma. It may not be Oscar-worthy, but he made Gangster Squad worth my time.

February

The month of the Oscars is also notorious for its less-than-Oscar-worthy releases. If you’re lucky, an enjoyable rom-com shows up on Valentine’s Day along with a compelling action flick as counter-programming. This was not the case in 2013. February 14 provided us the duds Safe Haven, an adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ novel containing the year’s most useless and confounding twist ending (click at your own risk), and this year’s most shattering disappointment, A Good Day to Die Hard. As much as it pains me to say this about the latest adventure of John McClane, it may have the best Oscar hopes of any film not mentioned in graph four of this section.

Listening to A Good Day to Die Hard in Dolby Atmos was a transformative experience. Prior to hearing “Yippie-ki-yay” under the whir of helicopter blades, I had only experienced one film in the highly-touted new sound system featuring speakers on the ceiling. That film was Rise of the Guardians. The animated holiday film was pretty good, despite what you may have heard, but I wasn’t as blown away by the audio as I was with A Good Day to Die Hard. Needless to say, it was as superb as the film was awful.

Historically, the Sound Mixing and Editing nominees aren’t necessarily high quality motion pictures. There’s more leniency with overall quality in the technical categories because so many are studio-driven moneymakers with enough money to be formally flawless while narratively faulty. For instance, two indisputably terrible films received nods in 2011: Transformers: Dark of the Moon and War Horse. So why can’t A Good Day to Die Hard compete with the likes of Gravity, Rush, and Man of Steel? It can, really. If 20th Century Fox decides to invest in the technical races, A Good Day to Die Hard would be their best bet for Sound Editing and Mixing nods. It would have to knock off a few films with more fervent fan bases to score a nod, namely Pacific Rim and The Hobbit: Part II of IX (Probably), but the most recent setback for Bruce Willis could sneak its way into the final circle.

Yet my odds on pick for February frontrunner is Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects. While the director would be one helluva long shot for a nod, Side Effects could score nostalgia points from Oscar voters if they actually believe it to be Soderbergh’s last film (you know, other than Behind the Candelabra and his upcoming min-series, The Knick). For what categories? In order of likelihood, I would say Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture. That’s right. Side Effects is Open Road Films’ only legitimate awards contender and should get a few ads in the Hollywood trades to remind voters of its rapturous reviews and esteemed director. The screenplay races are always wide open, and I may never cross an Oscar-friendly film off the contenders’ list again after seeing The Blind Side and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close both score surprise nods.

Do I think Side Effects will make the cut? No. Does it deserve to be among the elite films of 2013? Absolutely. The film’s main strike against it is its early release. That and its somewhat weak $32 million gross will, most likely, keep it from the Dolby. Yet Side Effects is still one of the best 10 films I’ve seen this year. I better stop there, though, lest this turn into a Top 10 list.

Keep checking Statuesque for March – August updates and all your 2013 awards coverage.

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