Film in 2013 - the year of DiCaprio unchained

What to look out for on the big screen this year.

Since the dawn of time, mankind has been guided through life by the passing of the seasons, the phases of the moon and the patterns of the film release schedule; 2013 is no different. There is the usual January logjam of awardsseason heavyweights: you shall know them by their extravagant length. One, Quentin Tarantino’s slavery revenge thriller Django Unchained (18 January), is one of three new films starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Having at last shed his formerly foetal demeanour, DiCaprio is up to the job of playing his first villain, a sadistic plan - tation owner. The actor will be a good fit, too, in the title role of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (May), opposite Carey Mulligan as Daisy. Before the year is out, he’ll be seen as the jailed stockbroker Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, his fifth collaboration with Martin Scorsese. (There’s an extra DiCaprio treat: a Valentine’s Day rerelease of Luhrmann’s febrile Romeo + Juliet. A new film of the play, adapted by Julian Fellowes, follows in October.)

Carey Mulligan and Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Great Gatsby"

The appetite of Park Chan-wook for Jacobean excess far outstrips mine but I am looking forward to Stoker (March), the Korean director’s forthcoming horror film starring Nicole Kidman and the translucent Mia Wasikowska. Oldboy, the gruesome thriller that made Park’s name, will rise again in October in the form of Spike Lee’s US remake. Anyone fancy putting a few squid on whether its star, Josh Brolin, will replicate the original film’s unsimulated liveoctopus- eating scene?

Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams in the upcoming Terrence Malik film "To the Wonder"

We can no longer look to Terrence Malick for tantalising hiatuses between projects – a mere two years after The Tree of Life, he offers To the Wonder (February), featuring Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams and very little dialogue, and has been shooting his next two movies simultaneously. Fortunately Wong Kar-wai is available to take up the mantle of Elusive Genius. Hopes are high for The Grandmaster, his first film in five years, starring Tony Leung as Yip Man, the martial arts master who trained Bruce Lee. The picture opens the Berlin Film Festival in February. The wait has been even longer for fans of the British director Jonathan Glazer. Nine years will have elapsed since his last film (Birth) by the time we see Glazer’s adaptation of Michel Faber’s novel Under the Skin. Scarlett Johansson wears a brown wig to play an extraterrestrial on a killing spree in Scotland.

Blockbusteritis prevents me from mentioning 2013’s numerous sequels. However, the film about which I am most excited is also technically a sequel, albeit a belated and idiosyncratic one. After ambling through Vienna in 1995 as twentysomethings in Before Sunrise and breezing around Paris nine years later in their thirties in Before Sunset, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) hit middle age in Greece in the conclusion to Richard Linklater’s freewheeling trilogy. One wag has pointed out that the new film’s title, Before Midnight, surely refers to the hour that Jesse and Celine have to be in bed these days.

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in "Before Sunrise"

As someone the same age as the characters, I can chuckle knowingly at that. I’ll be seeing the movie – just not at a late show.

Leonardo DiCaprio in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained". The actor stars in three big releases this year.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 07 January 2013 issue of the New Statesman, 2013: the year the cuts finally bite

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In Snowden, Joseph Gordon-Levitt seems to absorb the spirit of the whistleblower

Gordon-Levitt makes Snowden’s mot­ives transparent without ever fully dropping his guard. It is reassuring that a film in which people are spied can still have a protagonist who remains essentially unknowable.

Laura Poitras’s Oscar-winning 2014 documentary Citizenfour captured the precise moment at which Edward Snowden turned whistleblower after quitting his job at the NSA. Is there room for another film on the same subject? Oliver Stone’s fictionalised account, Snowden, would suggest not. In effect, it admits defeat from the get-go by using the making of Citizenfour as a framing device, incorporating flashbacks to show what led Snowden to commit the security breach that exposed the extent of US government surveillance. Cooped up in a Hong Kong hotel room with him as he spills the beans are Poitras (Melissa Leo) and the Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson), who put on their best ­listening faces and try to forget that all of the most interesting scenes are happening in other parts of the film.

What Snowden has in its favour is an economical performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt which is mysterious without being aloof, cool but never cold. The actor gets the voice right (it’s a benign rumble) and though he is physically dissimilar to the real Snowden, that need be no barrier to success: look at Anthony Hopkins in Stone’s Nixon. Gordon-Levitt is absorbed by the role like water vanishing into a sponge. When the real Snowden pops up to stare wistfully off into the distance (there’s a lot of that here), it can’t help but be a let-down. People are so bad at playing themselves, don’t you find?

Gordon-Levitt makes Snowden’s mot­ives transparent without ever fully dropping his guard, and it is reassuring that a film in which people are spied on through the webcams of dormant laptops can still have a protagonist who remains essentially unknowable. The script, written by Stone and Kieran Fitzgerald, pulls in the opposite direction, allowing every character to deliver a remark of nudging innuendo. When Snowden is discharged from the army after injuring himself, a doctor tells him: “There are plenty of other ways to serve your country.” When he is approved for a job at the CIA, Snowden tells his employer: “You won’t regret this.” What we have here, give or take the strip club scene in which a pole dancer is filmed from an ungallantly low angle, is a more sober Stone than the one who made JFK and Natural Born Killers but he still can’t resist giving us a few deafening blasts of the old irony klaxon.

Though we know by now not to expect subtlety, Stone’s storytelling techniques are still surprisingly crude. When Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay (Shailene Woodley), complains that he has become distant, that he doesn’t touch her any more, the viewer is likely to wonder why that point had to be expressed in soap-opera dialogue rather than, say, action or camera angles. After all, the film was more than happy to throw in a superfluous sex scene when their love life was hunky-dory.

But when Stone does make his points visually, the cringe factor is even higher. He used carnivorous imagery in Nixon – a bloody steak stood in for murder – and the new film doesn’t take the vegetarian option either. Snowden is already starting to be alarmed by surveillance tactics when he goes hunting with his boss, Corbin O’Brian (Rhys Ifans). The pheasants they kill are barbecued in sizzling close-up, providing a buffet of symbolism. Snowden is going to be grilled. His goose is cooked. He’s dead meat.

An early scene showing him establishing contact with Poitras and Greenwald by an exchange of coded phrases (“What time does the restaurant open?” “Noon. But the food is a little spicy”) suggests that Stone intends to have fun with the story’s espionage trappings. The movie falls between two stools, however, lacking either the irreverence of satire or the tautness of a well-tooled thriller. At its most effective moments, it floats free of irony and captures a quaint, tactile innocence. We see Snowden communicating in sign language with an NSA colleague to avoid being eavesdropped on, or sitting in bed with a blanket over him as he taps away at his laptop. He is only hiding his passwords but he looks for all the world like a kid reading comics by torchlight after his mother has said: “Lights out.”

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump