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Guys Guide to the Movies: 2013 Holiday Edition

Half a dozen current films that’ll lift your spirits and tell a great story — without having to rely on $40mm worth of special efx.

Inside Llewyn Davis
The Coen brothers re-fry the nascent Greenwich Village folk scene, circa 1961. If you were anywhere near that zeitgeist, they got your East Coast number. Oscar Issac plays a talented folksinger determined to succeed no matter how hard he works at undermining his chances, surrounded by a great cast of twitching kooks, including John Goodman and Justin Timberlake. Lots of period and original folk music produced by T Bone Burnett (worth watching just for the song Please, Mr. Kennedy), sung entertainingly live on camera, plus amusingly quirky and opaque story telling in every cramped apartment walk-up. It’s a challenge to root for a guy with this many crossed wires, but he lives for his art, winningly portrayed in the permafrost of his missteps. Expect to be puzzlingly entertained.

American Hustle
The big ensemble movie of the season, it’s con artists reveling in their own intricately spun melodrama as they seduce investors out of their last desperate dollars in 1970’s New York. Masterfully executed and Academy Award-bound, especially from the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, who cements her position as the most brilliantly possessed actress in New Hollywood, it’s the film to binge watch first at the multiplex, then sneak next door into the head-smack of…

The Wolf of Wall Street
In which Marty Scorsese gives us his white-collar version of Good Fellas, anchored to sublime excess by Leonardo DiCaprio. Playing the real-life story of convicted criminal Jordan Belfort, he builds an major stock brokerage on wholesale lies, rip-offs and guilt-free psychosis and along with sidekick and perfectly cast Jordan Hill, sets out to live a life of meglo-debauchery reaching for all the sex, drugs and insanely reckless behavior a person can somehow survive and stagger through to somehow make it to the next scene. A landmark black comedy (yes, comedy!) it crashes along from wide-eyed wacko to unforgivably criminal to screamingly funny, simply mesmerizing head-shaking overwhelm. Love it or hate it, it’s the most outrageously entertaining film of the year and a guy’s night out if there ever was one – unless, of course, you’re blessed with a five-star wife like mine.

Saving Mr. Banks
Emma Thompson plays the true-life author of Mary Poppins, who notoriously resisted Walt Disney’s 20-years of offers to buy the rights for the movie version, and who finally agreed, if among other demands, the color red would be excluded from the final cut. A seemingly lightweight premise that actually comes off with great flair, story and heart, thanks in part to Tom Hanks and the music of the Sherman Brothers, who basically underscored America’s G-rated movie musical culture for 30 years.

Her
Writer/Director Spike Jonze (Adaptation, Being John Malkovitch) has written a perfect little near-future saga about a nerdy guy who upgrades his desktop computer with a new, sentient, interactive OS that so adroitly adapts to his needs and desires, he falls in love with it. And that’s when the story really gets interesting. Charming, uncanny and plausible, it’s a tale custom-crafted for the geek believer in all of us. Sci-fi in sheep’s clothing, is this life just around the corner? Uh-huh. Great date flick.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Interestingly, Will Ferrell may have pulled off one of the biggest movie marketing blitzes in memory, only to see it backfire at the box office with over-saturation and endless cable re-runs of the original. On screen, he plays in deadly earnest and the gags are pretty silly but non-stop, funnier in post-screen discussions than at the theater. It’s lightweight but kid-friendly and answers the question: What happens when you tour your buddies in a speeding motor home with a deep fat fryer, a bag of bowling balls and a terrarium full of scorpions?

Cheers!

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