Monthly Archives: February 2014

Lyle’s Totally Subjective Top Ten Films of 2013

 

Indicative of the 2013 movie year, I found myself struggling to get to yes on a final list that reluctantly omitted several superb films.   While very good writing is the heart of very good films, the actors were up to the task in 2013.  For Academy members to choose between Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench and Amy Adams for Best Actress is ludicrous given that each delivered truly memorable performances.  Selecting a Best Actor among the nominees will be equally difficult.

My top film of 2013 has it all, a heart wrenching true story, a terrific script by Steve Coogan and an unforgettable performance by Judi Dench in the title role of “Philomena”.

1.  “Philomena “– The back-story of Philomena Lee, a real Irish woman who’s 3-year old child from a 1950’s teenage pregnancy was taken, against her will and sold for adoption by a Catholic convent to an American family, was revealed through an association, years later,  with a

Philomena

Philomena

BBC journalist who is helping to locate her now adult son in the U.S.  It has plenty of drama, epiphanies for both characters and an unexpected closure.  I just enjoy watching Judi Dench act and Steve Coogan was a good match with his script as well as on-screen.

2.  “The Great Beauty” – Admittedly, it will take a few more viewings for me to understand this film enough to semi-intelligently discuss it.  However, like a fine wine, I know it is going to be extraordinary once that happens.  Meanwhile, Paolo Sorrentino’s film reveals a man, near his 65th birthday, that is dealing with the

The Great Beauty

The Great Beauty

recent understanding that his effort to lead a narcissistic, uncomplicated life, void of close relationships, may have been a mistake.  Jep, played by Toni Servillo, takes us on his inner journey, with many surrealistic, metaphorically wrought images all set within a wonderful postcard called Rome.  I can’t wait to watch it again.

 3. “Nebraska”  –  Alexander Payne has become one of today’s most reliable writer/directors, with films like “The Descendents” and “Sideways,” creating real characters that, from time to time, have crossed our paths.  We meet Woody (Bruce Dern) and Kate (June Squibb) Grant and their odd family and friends as Woody and his youngest son journey from Montana to Nebraska to collect a bogus fortune.  Shot in black and white, this is a story of a man growing old with regrets, moving through a torturous past toward some simple legacy.

 4.  “American Hustle” – David O. Kelley continues as one of the best directors of this time with an enjoyably convoluted story that is centered on the

American Hustle

American Hustle

reluctant partnership of a con man and the FBI in taking down members of the New Jersey mafia.  Aside from an intense script, the superb ensemble cast including Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner made the film exceptional.

 5.  “Dallas Buyers Club” – Matthew MCConaughey’s portrayal of real life character Ron Woodruff who, seeking experimental Mexican drugs for his own AIDS virus, began smuggling them into Texas and distributing to local patients under the name, Dallas Buyers Club, is worthy of an Academy Award.  In addition to his drastic weight loss, the character fit McConaughhey’s style of sarcasm and wit perfectly.  This film wasn’t always fun to watch, but the performances, including that of Jared Leto were compelling throughout. This is the year that Matthew needs to get Oscar tickets for his parents.

6.  “Blue Jasmine” – Although the Bernie Madoff theme is over used, once again Woody Allen creates another modern script, attracts fine veteran actors and allows them to develop their character.  Cate Blanchett is brilliant in the title role as a woman

Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine

having difficulty separating fantasy from reality as well as her complicity in a  “riches to rags” situation.  Sally Hawkins earned her Oscar nomination while Andrew Dice Clay and Bobby Caravale were outstanding in another clean drama/comedic effort from one of the best filmmakers of any time.

7.  “In A World” – Inspired from the age of Don LaFountaine and other men in Hollywood who made careers from their voices, recording radio film promotions, the creatively odd comedy, “In A World”, is about a woman rising in a male dominated craft, fueled by the fact that one of its threatened patriarchs is her father, played by

In A World

In A World

veteran actor, Fred Melamed.  Lake Bell wrote, directed and delightfully starred in this small indie film that takes you out of your comfort zone and unveils a narrative set within a diminishing Hollywood community.

8.  “Her “– My first impression of “Her” was that it was new and different.  It focuses on a man who develops a relationship with an intelligent computer operating system (IOS) in a film written perfectly for the talent of Joaquin Phoenix.   Uncomfortable with normal human attachments, Theodore begins to fall in love with his IOS at a time when he is deciding whether to sign his divorce papers.  Of course, if “IOS”

Her

Her

relationships take off, there will certainly be high demand for the Scarlett Johansson app.  I also appreciated the subtle detail in depicting a futuristic Los Angeles.

9.  “The Wolf Of Wall Street” – I heard comments like “over the top” and Leonardo joked when the Golden Globe classified the film, not inaccurately, as a comedy. As he ages, Martin Scorese just wants to have fun.  Here, he takes a true story of gross corruption and indulgence and magnifies it beyond comprehension.  For

The Wolf Of Wall Street

The Wolf Of Wall Street

Dicaprio and Jona Hill, this film had to be a total blast to make. The “delayed qualude country club” scene will instantly become classic and this film achieved the goal of any comedy; it made me laugh out loud.

10. “Captain Phillips/The Past” – Coping to a cop-out, my reluctance to exclude either of these thoroughly converse films from my list led to them sharing this spot.  Most audiences knew the story of Captain Phillips before

Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips

the film started, but director Paul Greengrass takes us into the middle of the struggle and allows the audience to feel fear, rage and compassion, mostly in the confines of a very small, crowded vessel.  The story of Barkhad Abdi, a Minneapolis cab driver cast in the role of a Somailian pirate who now has a reserved seat at the Oscars is as intriguing as the one that omits Tom Hanks from the list of nominees.  If I ever need to be rescued from danger, my preference would be the Navy Seals.

Iranian director, Asghar Farhadi follows up his superb, “A Separation”, with a complex film of how past

The Past

The Past

relationships can reveal new issues as a husband (Tahar Rahim) returns from Iran to Paris to finalize a divorce with his soon to be ex-wife (Berenice Bejo).  The plot is pealed away, layer by layer as we begin to understand the characters and the core of their behavior.  Like a good novel, I await Farhadi’s next film.

 

Honorable Mention:  Fruitvale Station,  Starbuck,  12 Years A Slave,  Blackfish,  Saving Mr. Banks, Populaire,  The Hunt

Best Short Film/Live Action:  “Aquel No Era Yo” (That Wasn’t Me)

Best Short Film/Animated:  “Mr. Hublot”

 

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Brunello di Montalcino Wines

 

 

 

In the heart of the Tuscany wine region, south of Florence, Italy sits the small medieval village of Montalcino, perched on a hilltop in the province of Siena, surrounded by 3,000 acres of vineyards.  Brunello, translated “brown grape”, references the darker color

Montalcino, Italy

Montalcino, Italy

of the sangiovese grape when grown in the diverse local soils of clay, limestone or volcanic matter.  Brunello di Montalcino

Vineyards in Montalcino, Italy

Vineyards in Montalcino, Italy

describes the 100% sangiovese wines that emerge from this unique area, the first to be granted Italy’s DOCG wine region designation in 1980.  Today, over 200 winemakers produce vintages that peak the interest of consumers/collectors throughout the world.

My interest in exploring these big earthy red wines peaked when we were invited by the Consorzio Del brunello_consorzio_logoVino Brunello di Montalcino to attend a private tasting at the Sofitel Hotel in Beverly Hills introducing the region’s 2009 vintage.

This 2009 vintage of Brunello di Montalcino was a four, not five-star release like 2007 or 2006.  Production in 2009 fell by 20% mainly due to two factors:  higher than average temperatures in June-July and late season rains that either rushed or delayed the harvest.  Ironically, these factors were present in some recent California vintages.

It is a known fact that Brunello di Montalcino wines in most instances need years to mature. The experts tell us that the unique conditions of the 2009 vintage resulted in fresher grapes, softer and rounder with less tannins, more ready to drink.  The impacts of extraordinary summer heat and untimely, late rains led winemakers to “drop” or sacrifice any damaged fruit to enhance the grapes that survived.  While this process of natural selection results in a lower yield, the fruit flavor is often more concentrated and rich.

While Italy is no stranger to fine blended wines, one grape seems to be enough for the Montalcino region.  Most believe that the sangiovese grape produces more complex and better-textured wines going solo.  Brunello di Montalcino wines vary within themselves and with the diverse terroir that exists, one grape is definitely enough.

Brunello di Montalcino Paraisone Colle Degli Angeli

Brunello di Montalcino Paraisone Colle Degli Angeli

Aside from high tannins and acidity, traditional Brunello di Montalcino wines are often described as earthy with aromas and flavors of sour cherry.  This description always begs the question. “What does “earthy” taste like?”  The  “earthy” descriptor in wine can refer to the smell and taste of damp earth or the dusty flavor that is apparent in rich, highly tannic wines.  However depicted, one will know it when smelling and tasting the wine and, most likely, will either love it or hate it.

The diverse soils of the Montalcino region most certainly will add earthiness to the wines, but other traditions enable these large brown grapes to fulfill their potential.  Maceration, the process of leaching color, flavors and tannins from the skins to the juice, is much longer in these wines, adding rich, dark color, flavor and age worthy tannins.

Cautious with anything that may affect the balance of the wine, Brunello di Montalcino wines are aged three to five years in Slavonian oak that is less forceful than French oak.  In addition to the typical aging, experts feel a good wine from this region needs 10 years to mature.

The end result is rich, friendly and full-bodied wines, 35% of which are exported to awaiting U.S. consumers. Hence, consortiums are formed and events for media and trade are hosted.  The following 2009 wines were selected for this tasting.

Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2009-Barbi ($49)

 

The Colombini family has been harvesting grapes from their Montalcino vineyards since 1790.  Still run by the family, the Barbi1 winery balances old traditions with modern technology such as a cold maceration process called “cyro maceration” that is intended to enhance the aromas of the wines.

From elevated vineyards with rough topography, this is a warm, friendly wine with a bouquet and flavors of sour cherry, a nice minerality, healthy tannins and, of course, a damp earthiness.

Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – Camigliano ($50.)

 

Grown in low elevation vineyards located in the far west of the zone, Brunello di Montalcino from the Camigliano Winery generally has lower acidity and tannins with a higher fruit character.  Fermented in stainless steel after a long maceration process, the juice spends two years in French oak and another in the bottle before release.

Following nice sour cherry on the nose, the flavors are quite full on the palate with high fruit character and balanced tannins, making it more ready to drink.   Elegant wines such as this with high, balanced tannins are, according to our sommelier, indicative of a Brunello di Montalcino four-star vintage.

Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2009 – Capanna

 

Grown in soil heavy with limestone, this wine is currently expressing overly high tannins and acidity, evidence that it is still too young and needs to age another four to five years.  With extended maceration and full malo-lactic fermentation, odds are that those who can be patient will be rewarded with an elegant wine.  Tannin management is important with Brunello di Montalcino wines and this one needs more age and experience.

Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2009 – La Magia

I found the La Magia release to be one of more complex and interesting wines of the tasting.  It has a perfumed, herb and spice

Brunello di Montalcino La Magia

Brunello di Montalcino La Magia

nose, round and complete.  After 36 months in oak and another year in the bottle, our sommelier still felt that the wine needed 10-18 months more time to mature.

There is a consistent effort among these winemakers to manage the tannins and balance their wines. Similarly, California winemakers and consumers seem to be moving away from the large “fruit bomb” wines toward those with more balance. With this in mind, I noted a thread through local Brunello di Montalcino winemakers when one commented, “Over fruitiness can become the enemy of complexity.”  European wines, for the most part, are blends where “the whole is larger than the sum of its parts” attitude drives their success.  Here, winemakers must deal with the complexities of a single grape.

Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2009 – Paradisone Colle Degli Angeli

To make this wine, grapes from four lots or “crus” in the northeast of the zone, are harvested separately at different times

to assure best conditions and also vinified in different batches.  Taste analysis determines the best batches for Brunello di

Brunello di Montalcino Paradisone Colle Degli Angeli

Brunello di Montalcino Paradisone Colle Degli Angeli

Montalcino and others for the local Rosso or Sant’antimo wines.

This wine had solid, but well-managed tannins and the complex, balanced flavors made it one of the best pours of the entire tasting.

Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2009 – Sassodisole

The Terzuoli family has been farming this land, now called Societa’ Agricola Sassodisole, since the beginning of the 17th Century  Despite the intimidating earthy aromas, this wine had the softest balanced tannins with concentrated fruit flavors of any wine at the tasting.

Brunello di Montalcino Sassodisole

Brunello di Montalcino Sassodisole

Age is a factor for this wine that spends one year in stainless steel followed by three years in Slavonian oak and another in the bottle.  It was my favorite at the event and one that is highly recommended.

Brunello di Montalcino wines, including some of the ones we tasted, can with very little research be found at various wine outlets. Look for the 2006, 2007 or 2009 vintages to determine if these bold, earthy wines are your cup of tea.