By Eleanor Ringel Cater
The single most important thing that happened in 2013 was we lost Peter O’Toole, in mid-December, at age 82.
He was supposed to have died sometime in the 1970s. Hard living and hard drinking can do that to a man.
But O’Toole was more than man. He was something fantastical. Not simply larger than life but somehow beyond the petty realities of life. The tales of his drunken carousing with Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Albert Finney, Michael Caine, Sean Connery — all those beautiful Brits did for movies what the Beatles did for music. That scandalous mix of creativity and reckless abandon.
O’Toole’s legend may have been better served b if he had gone in the 70s when proper attention would’ve been paid. It’s fine he was lumped together with the likes of James Gandolfini and Joan Fontaine (who died on the same day as O’Toole). But Paul Walker and Corey Monteith?
However, if he had died in the ‘70s, we would’ve been robbed of “The Stunt Man,” “Fairy Tale: A True Story,” “Venus,” his gentle Duke in the newest “Lassie,” the wise Priam of “Troy” (during which he taught a whole new generation, including Brad Pitt, how to properly party). He provided the snobbish voice for Anton Ego, the restaurant critic in “Ratatouille” and pulled off the intoxicating one-man show, “Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell,” which could just as well been subtitled “A Life in the Theatre: 101.” And let’s not forget “Creator,” a little-seen and criminally under-appreciated film about love, loss and yearning.
Of course, O’Toole would’ve probably made the “Dead Celebrities” list if he’d never made another movie after “Lawrence of Arabia.” But he did make more: “Becket,” ‘The Ruling Class,” “The Lion in Winter,” even “Casino Royale” which, if nothing else, serves as a British companion piece to “What’s New Pussycat,” — each a way-back machine to the heart of the mini-mod mid-1960s.
“My Favorite Year” is not one of my favorite O’Toole pictures, but it does provide a spectacular epitaph. As Alan Swann, a combo of O’Toole and Errol Flynn, who has been hired for a guest appearance on a program much like “Your Show of Shows,” he’s handed a script with a few lines to say. Recoiling, he protests with equal parts astonishment and hauteur, “I am not an actor. I am a movie star.”
He was both. And I’ll bet they keep the bars open a little later in Heaven since he arrived.
Oh. Right. The rest of 2013.
Typically, every year, there’s a movie I fall in love with. The Coens’ “True Grit” a few years back. “There Will Be Blood” before that. Sometimes it’s a little film that no one’s ever heard of, like “How I Won the War” (John Lennon’s only non-Beatles movie). Or a popular behemoth like the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
In 2013, it just didn’t happen.
Maybe “Blue Jasmine” comes the closest, for the cast (Cate Blanchett, Peter Sarsgaard, Sally Hawkins, Louis C.K., even Alec Baldwin) as much as for Woody Allens’ singularly original and outrageous conceit: what if Blanche Dubois had somehow been a part of, then cast off from Bernie Madoff’s world?
I felt protective of “Enough Said,” Nicole Holofcener’s tender comedy-romance that both benefited from and, perhaps, was doomed by, James Gandolfini’s unexpected death. It brought the movie a modicum of attention. However, it also meant he couldn’t tour or do the talk show circuit, with or without the equally expert Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
If I had to come up with one heart film, it would probably be “All is Lost,” in which Robert Redford turns bad luck and perilous circumstances into a meditation on the nature of mortality. And he does it on his own, without Paul Newman.
OTHER MOVIES I LIKED in 2013:
FROZEN, for its ice castles in the sky
GRAVITY for the sheer wonder of its star-drenched outer space and for Sandra Bullock’s performance in what, mere years ago, would’ve had to have been a male role. George Clooney was darn good, too. He gets my best supporting nod
HOLY MOTORS, because, it is my litmus test for who can really, truly survive and even appreciate a movie that’s so clearly insane, it might as well be drooling at the mouth (I loved it; so did Steve Moddelmog).
THE GREAT BEAUTY, because, once you get past the first 15-20 minutes of faux-Fellini “La Dolce Vita” grotesques, you’re treated to a highly original, incredibly beautiful series of vignettes, (some more surreal than others), centered in the Eternal City.
THE HUNT, because it pairs a complex script with a star-quality actor. Sure Mads Mikkelson can weep blood for Daniel Craig’s James Bond or play a TV-sized Hannibal Lector. But give him his head and you get a movie about mass hysteria generated by the merest whisper of child molestation.
Some of the most enchanting moments of 2013?
“Frozen’s” ice castles in the air
James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus falling in love
Llewyn Davis en route to Chicago
Everyone’s hair in “American Hustle”
Fun Couples of 2013
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in “Gravity”
Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini in “Enough Said”
Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson in “Her”
Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in “The Heat”
Not So Fun Couples of 2013
Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in “Saving Mr. Banks”
Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi in “Captain Phillips”
Idris Elba and Naomie Harris in “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”
Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill in “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Sulley and Mike in “Monsters University”
PERFORMANCES I ADMIRED
Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins and Peter Sarsgaard in “Blue Jasmine”
Robert Redford in “All is Lost”
John Goodman in “Inside Llewyn Davis”
Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper in “August: Osage County”
Chiwetal Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave”
Mads Mikkelsen in “The Hunt”
Jennifer Lawrence in anything
PERFORMANCES I DID NOT ADMIRE
Bruce Dern in “Nebraska”
Andrew Dice Clay in “Blue Jasmine”
Bradley Cooper in “American Hustle”
Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko in “To the Wonder”
Channing Tatum in “White House Down”
Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone in “Grudge Match”
Jaden Smith in “After Earth” (though Will deserves the “Let Daddy Help” Award)
James Franco in anything.