TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2013:
I have seen 54 movies from 2013 so far. That’s more than any other single year for me (and I largely have my job at the theater to thank for that). This is probably the first year where I feel as though I’ve seen enough movies to do a justifiable top 10 list. I can guarantee that this won’t be my final list for this year. There are a lot of films I haven’t seen, many of which haven’t been made widely available, such as:
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
THE WIND RISES (Almost guaranteed top ten)
THE GREAT BEAUTY
BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
I’ll probably do a revised list once I’ve seen more of these.
So first off, some honorable mentions:
THE WAY, WAY BACK
THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE
And now my top 10 (in no particular order):
THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES – Personal in its scale but mythic in its scope, that’s what I think sets this movie apart from other crime dramas this year. Even though this movie centers on just a few people, its themes of sin, legacy, and fatherhood ring with what smarter people than I have described as not unlike a Greek tragedy. Pretentious as that sounds, that’s a pretty apt way of summing the themes of this movie. It’s hard to sum up what this movie’s “about,” because doing so would in and of itself spoil a lot of the plot, and I feel like I got as much as I did out of it by NOT knowing what to expect. I wouldn’t exactly call myself a fan of Ryan Gosling, but his turn as stunt biker turned bank robber Luke Glanton was definitely worthy of the high praise it got. Same thing with Bradley Cooper, this movie’s just filled with good performances all around. Despite its slightly weaker third act, the movie was able to grip me with the twists and turns all throughout its lengthy run time ‘til when the credits rolled. I really don’t feel this movie got the attention it deserved, despite the critical praise it got upon its release it’s almost vanished from the public conscience as the year went on. It’s a shame, but hey, you win some you lose some.
PACIFIC RIM – This is a flawed movie, no question. The plot is cliché, it’s cheesy as all hell, and the script and performances can be pretty bland at times. With that said, though, there isn’t a movie I had more fun watching this year than Pacific Rim. While many have given this movie flak for just being “Transformers with giant monsters,” I think that sells the movie incredibly short. While Transformers reeks of cynical commercialism in both its style and execution, the design and attitude of Pacific Rim reflects a real sense of creative spark as and honest to goodness love of the material it embraces. The visual design in this movie is filled with lavish, neon lit colors. Each creature and machine is given an identifiable, yet unified design that makes the world of this movie feel unique and genuinely alive. And while the characters are broad and archetypical, they’re all unique and recognizable, with the actors delivering their lines 100% straight without a hint of irony or knowing wink to the audience. Everyone involved believes in this world, and it shows in every last goofy, rollicking, kaiju-punch-tastic frame. Oh, and there isn’t another action sequence this year that made me want to jump out of my seat and cheer more than the fight in Hong Kong (The boat was a sword for God’s sake!)
NEBRASKA – I’m not really sure what I can say about this movie. It’s not that there isn’t a lot to talk about, for how seemingly simplistic it’s shot and plotted this movie is filled with hidden complexities and subtleties. I guess I since it’s the most recent film I’ve seen from 2013 it’s still kind of sinking in. In the broadest terms, this is a movie about dignity and being able to look back on your life and feel like it was worth something to someone. In another vein this is a movie about reconnecting, as well as disconnecting from the things in your life that were never really that important to begin with. It may sound like a cop out, but this is a movie that’s about people, plain old ordinary people. While most of the performances are great, Bruce Dern absolutely knocks it out of the park with his crotchety single-minded Woody Grant. There’s been some backlash over the film being in black and white, which I honestly don’t understand. I think black and white gets a bad rap as something gimmicky you inject in a film to add faux “artistry” or to hide a low budget. I honestly didn’t even register as something “different” most of the time, and the cinematography, understated as it was, was evocative, even beautiful at times. It adds greatly to what’s a simple, very unsentimental look at old age, which is good because sentimentality is what most often keeps me away from films that explore aging. There’s a difference between sentimentality and sympathy, and this movie largely succeeds at eschewing the former and embracing the latter.
THE SPECTACULAR NOW – A word I hear bandied about a lot when people talk about this movie is “honesty” which I think characterizes a lot of what makes this movie so special. A lot of high school movies, especially popular ones, tend to be built on tropes and clichés based on what some 30 something writer THINKS teenagers are like. With the Spectacular Now, we get to see a side of teenage life we normally not normally seen on screen. Even though all the characters change and grow by the end, it still leaves us with a sense that things might not go all right for everyone. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling this movie, but I appreciate when a movie this personal and this emotional leaves room for ambiguity while also leaving the viewer satisfied and fulfilled. A lot of this is very much thanks to the beautiful performances by its two leads: Mile Teller and Shailene Woodley. They bring a such a wonderful heart and honesty to their roles that is so rare in any film much less in teen dramas, and I have no doubt that both of them will go on to do great things in the coming years.
PRISONERS – There’s a lot of things that can be said about the criminally overlooked Prisoners. One of the biggest things I took from it was its brutal subversion of a perversely popular onscreen trend: the hyper-competent dad whose kid is missing and he beats and tortures his way until he eventually gets her back. Basically, it’s the anti-Taken. At the same time, it takes an opposite yet equally pervasive idea of the hyper-competent detective who uses his encyclopedic knowledge and attention to detail to unravel an unsolvable case a-la Sherlock Holmes and then equally subverts it. This movie is certainly an endurance run, but even when it starts to drag it only helps to magnify the desperation and agony the characters are go through. What could have just been a boring crime procedural is bolstered by two very powerful leading performances by Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. These performances complement as well as contrast, with Jackman’s powerful, aggressive performance clashing dramatically with Gyllenhaal’s more subdued yet equally powerful turn as detective Loki. Though I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the ending, its sense potent ambiguity definitely left me with a lot to think about when I left the theater. And as a side note, though it’s not getting the kind of end year buzz I hoped, at least Roger Deakins got another Oscar nomination for cinematography he’s not going to win.
12 YEARS A SLAVE – If I was forced at gunpoint to pick my favorite movie of the year solely based on what I thought was objectively the “best” movie of the year, 12 Years a Slave would probably top the list. Neither viscerally exploitive, nor shy about the brutality and savagery of its subject matter, 12 Years a Slave will be regarded in years to come as the definitive cinematic interpretation of American slavery. Speaking on my own part, I was in tears by the end. This harrowing, achingly human story of endurance against injustice rocked me to my raw emotional core from start to finish. I emphasize endurance, because unlike say Django Unchained, there is no glorious act of vengeance, there’s no swift justice dealt against the cruel men and women who perpetuate the system. Every moment of defiance, every fleeting moment of self-liberation feels like a desperate gasp of breath before being plunged back into the water to endure for just a little bit more. Not only is the leading performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor an absolute tour de force, but the turns from the supporting cast are equally potent and well worthy of the awards nominations they receive. I swear if Jennifer Lawrence gets an Oscar over Lupita N’yongo tables will be flipped!
FROZEN – If you were to tell me a year that one of my favorite movies of the year was an in name only adaptation of one of my favorite fairy tales featuring a talking snowman sidekick called “Frozen” I would have been more than a little bit skeptical. Lo and behold, the house of mouse proves me wrong again. I think it’s safe to say at this point that Disney has at last swung back from its animation slump and landed squarely into its second renaissance. If Tangled was the Little Mermaid in this analogy, then Frozen, to me, would be Beauty and the Beast. The reason this movie succeeds so much is that it takes a lot of disparate tones and ideas (that sometimes don’t gel all that well) and ends up weaving them around a powerful central relationship, that being the one between the two sisters Anna and Elsa. Elsa especially is such an interesting, and honestly rather brave character coming from the nominally wholesome Disney. Her emotional struggles, while not overtly analogous, become applicable to issues a lot of young women face when you think about it, ranging from puberty, to mental illness, to LGBT acceptance, whatever! I don’t think I’ve seen a Disney animation venture this deep into its characters emotional issues since The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I almost wish it could have taken it further, but maybe that’s asking too much of Disney. It’s not without SOME problems, mostly hinging on its eclectic song styles, the fact that it frontloads its better songs into the first half hour, and that it’s ending feels just a bit too clean and tidy for my liking. But despite all this the things I love about it far outweigh those negatives. Now that I think about it I’ve probably seen this movie more times than any other movie that came out this year. Somehow with each viewing I still find something new to love and think about.
THE ACT OF KILLING – It’s very rare that a movie can so radically change my perspective on, not just the world around me, but the foundations of what I understand about human empathy. I would like to think that I have a fairly strong stomach for gruesome acts committed on screen, but seeing this movie, where the acts of violence are amateurishly staged and almost romanticized by their participants, made me feel this sickening, cold contempt and disgust that no fictional movie has ever made me feel. This documentary is about a gang of government sanctioned thugs who killed people during Indonesia’s communist purges. So what happened to them after the fervor died down, were they punished, were they imprisoned? Nope, they’re lionized and now live comfortably in their old age. They even frequently joke about the good old days when they’d bring their victims to the rooftops to brutally murder them. This is a something that has to be watched to be believed, and not to give away what makes it so powerful, but there’s one segment at the end where one of the participants is dry heaving on the roof thinking about all that he’s done (even after eagerly regaling these events earlier in great detail). It’s one of the most powerful moments I’ve ever seen in a documentary and really makes me wonder what could possibly go through the minds of these people once the act of killing is done.
BEFORE MIDNIGHT – I can’t imagine what this movie must have been like for those who had to wait nine years for it. For me, I only had to borrow the DVD’s from a friend and watch them back to back, but for them this movie must have felt like a reunion with old friends they’d maybe long since forgotten about. To me, the story of Jessie and Celine feels so real to me, the characters these two actors have created feel honestly like real people I could meet on the street. I feel like I understand their fears, their likes, their dislikes, so much in about five hours of screen time. I don’t know why director Richard Linklater doesn’t get more attention than he does (which is already considerable). To me his movies always have this ability to reach out and communicate esoteric subject matter in a way that’s neither pretentious nor obscure, but lucid with an incredible passion and cinematic eloquence. This movie, as well as its two predecessors are quintessential romance films in my eyes, suggested viewing for anyone not matter what stage of life you’re in. I just hope everyone’s still around nine years from now so we can see what happens next.
THE WORLD’S END – Yeah, the ending may have been a bit rushed and haphazard, but for the first 90% of its run I thought this movie was an absolute rollicking good time. Beneath all the jokes and giddy fun, though, there’s a hint of something much darker and much more sinister in the movies thematic make-up. Arrested development, nostalgia, addiction, depression, all of these things wrapped up in an infectiously silly, solidly science fiction-y package. I haven’t seen the other movies in the so called “Cornetto Trilogy” (and as far as Edgar Wright’s filmography, I’ve only seen Scott Pilgrim) but if what I hear is true and this is the weakest one of the three, I can’t wait to see what the other two have in store for me! Simon Pegg as Garry King is such a great character, not simply because he’s funny and kind of sad at the same time (which he is) but that you think you know where his arc is going to go, and then the movie takes it and goes in a completely different (and to me more satisfying) direction. Like I said, it does fumble a bit in the landing, but wow, what a ride it is to get there.