Friday, February 7, 2014

Top 11 Films of 2013

 (Because sometimes 10 just isn't enough)

It's that time of year again...where we take stock of all the films we saw for the year and weigh in on which ones were a waste of time and which ones were time well spent. And not like this needs repeating but I will do it anyway, this is a list comprised of films "I" felt were the best of what this past year had to offer us.

2013 was a year where most films I was looking forward to (Iron Man 3, Oz The Great and Powerful, Kick-Ass 2, Man of Steel and to a limited extent, Pacific Rim) severely let me down while others that weren't even on my radar (This Is The End, Rush, 12 Years A Slave, Hunger Games: Catching Fire and About Time) helped make this year much better than it appeared to be at first. Sure there were some that met the high expectations laid upon them such as Gravity, The World's End and Evil Dead, but overall this year in film was a mixed mess of films that made this one of the most uneven in quality in a long time. This is the first year in a long time where the list of films in my top 11 are almost completely different that the list of films I had thought would be on here. Find out my top films and my list of worst films, as well as some honorable mentions and disappointments for 2013 after the break.



Blue Is The Warmest Color

Forget about all the controversy over the very explicit sex scenes that you may have heard about in the media. The real reason to see one of the most compelling, raw and honest looks at young love and the complexities involved in discovering our own sexual identity is its unbridled examination of this extraordinary relationship that begins with a spark and leads into a whirlwind of emotional turmoil that defies all conventional romantic expectations. With a powerful lead performance by newcomer Adele Exarchopoulos anchoring this emotionally exhausting love story, there has never been another film that has captured what it is to find love and yourself for the first time quite like it.



The Wind Rises

If this happens to be Hayao Miyazaki's final animated film, there isn't any argument here. Despite missing many of the fantasy based elements featured in nearly all of the legendary filmmakers more cherished offerings from his past catalog of films, The Wind Rises still feels like the most personal film he has ever made. Miyazaki's own fascination with flying is mirrored brilliantly by this highly fictionalized account of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man responsible for creating the zero fighter plane which would go on to be Japan's main fighter plane of choice during World War 2. Put aside your expectations for what you have been taught to expect from a Miyazaki film and appreciate The Wind Rises for what it is, yet another masterful animated feature from a masterful filmmaker.




Ron Howard plus Formula One race cars should automatically illicit yawns, but somehow Howard and company managed to deliver one of the most exhilirating films of the year. Don't let the highly skewed ads towards racing fool you, the most exciting moments in this film about a decade long grudge match between two professional race car drivers are actually off the track. Witnessing the whirlwind of personalities that is James Hunt and Niki Lauda clashing with their completely different viewpoints on what it is to be a successful race car driver held some of this year's best dramatic moments, which only helped make the actual scenes on the race track that much more investing.



The World's End

The creative forces behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz return with their final entry into their Cornetto trilogy of films with one of the best (and sadly overlooked) comedies of the year. Outclassed by only one other comedy this year, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost still delivered a film for the geek in all of us, this time with their love note to the Science-Fiction genre. While it is somewhat sad that this is the last film the three of them will collaborate on together, they couldn't have finished their trilogy in any better form than this hysterical, highly imaginative and often times heartwarming film.



From Up On Poppy Hill

If there was going to be any other animated film this year to top Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises, the only person that could have pulled it off would of course be another Miyazaki. In this case however we are talking about Hayao's son Goro, who delivered one of the sweetest love stories of the year with his film From Up On Poppy Hill. Unlike many love stories focused on teenage relationships, this story about a young boy and girl set agains a post World War 2 Japan who find one another is simultaneously the most heartfelt and tragic stories ever told with an out of left field twist that absolutely no one will see coming, and when it does? Prepare to be blown away by what could quite possibly be one of the sweetest and most complex cinematic relationships you have ever seen.



All Is Lost

A man in a boat for nearly two hours with absolutely no dialog doesn't immediately sound like a fun a time...and it isn't, at least not for the man that is. This is an intense and extremely exhausting look at the strength of will it takes to face off against mother nature in one of the most unforgiving environments on the planet. Robert Redford was an absolute miracle casting choice as the grizzled sea veteran we witness go toe to toe with the elements and somehow the less he says (which is next to nothing) makes him that much more interesting as he fights for his life even when all hope was lost hours ago. This is pure filmmaking at its most basic and its most invigorating.



This Is The End

Absolutely no one was prepared for the greatness that is This Is The End. Released the same week as Man of Steel, no one would believe me when I said that this was the better film and now months after its big screen debut, all those people who were waiting years for the new superman movie can only ever talk about this insanely original instant comedy classic. Endlessly hysterical (multiple viewings somehow only make it funnier), startlingly original and possibly one of the biggest in-joke films of all time, This Is The End is only the beginning when it comes to the biggest and most well earned laugh out loud moments of the year.



Captain Phillips

I always seem to find myself caught off guard by Tom Hanks. Just when you think you know what to expect from the star of Forrest Gump, Philadelphia, Saving Private Ryan, Cast Away and countless other films where the actor has proven why he is one of Hollywood's most reliable and consistent actors working today, he goes ahead and jumps off the deep end with a performance that may seem restrained and a little pedestrian for the veteran actor at first, but soon reveals itself to be a much more emotionally raw side of him than we have ever seen before. While many will say his performance here doesn't peak until the film's final moments, that is to discount the masterfully subtle work he did leading up to that emotional break down that had audiences quaking in their seats as they experienced through him the terror that Captain Phillips was likely put through. Fantastic film that is worthy of every praise laid upon it.




Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity is that rare Hollywood "spectacle" film that captured not only the hearts and minds of a nearly unanimous critical base, but also captured the imagination of movie goers everywhere. The simple concept of being stranded just above Earth's atmosphere is brought to the screen in a frighteningly realistic manner that helped remind all of us how dangerous space travel really is. Anchored by two fantastic performances from both Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, as well as the best incorporation of special effects and space travel ever put to screen, there is little doubt left as to why the film did as well as it did and little reason left for me to explain its highly deserved spot at number 3 for the year.



12 Years A Slave

This was a great year for true stories. Rush, Captain Phillips, 42 and yes, even the sadly forgotten dark comedy Pain & Gain. But none of those stories, as captivating as they were, could ever come close to the story of Solomon Northup's tragic tale of a free man having everything he loves ripped away from him and then being sentenced to a purgatory unlike any other. From the very beginning it is impossible to not be swept up into the emotional turmoil that was Northup's 12 year ordeal as a slave in the south.

Experiencing hardshaps that no man or woman should ever have to endure and showing an inordinate amount of strength in both body and soul, Northup's story is sadly just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the amount of injustice that happened during that era, but it does serve to remind us of a past that will not, and should not, ever be forgotten. Filled with a grand cast of actors all doing some of their best work to date, it is impossible to single just one out of the group. If there were an Academy award for best ensemble cast, this would win hands down.



Before Midnight

My original review covered the history of the "Before" films and the landmark they have become quite extensively. Likewise, it also brought up the many themes that each chapter in the ongoing story of Celine and Jesse has thus far entailed. So I would like to take this opportunity for one last look at the film to discuss it as a more traditional film as opposed to this grand trilogy spanning decades now.

This third chapter in the "Before" series is a breath of fresh air when compared to other similarly themed rom/coms. Yes, Before Midnight is a rom/com of sorts, it just doesn't fit that traditional mold that we have come to expect from that genre. The many long conversations had throughout the film, both between Celine and Jesse as well as a welcomed number of new faces, are what drives the film forward. The excellent writing combined with the comfort level between both actors allows us to freely lose ourselves in their story never thinking for one second where it will all lead.

However, one only needs to know themselves to understand that Celine and Jesse are on the verge of an explosive encounter, which director Richard Linklater builds up to impressively. While the early parts of the film are without a doubt a simple joy to sit in on and listen to the many opinions being thrown about, it is that climatic verbal showdown that consumates everything that came before it and is also what sets the film apart from every other film about relationships before it.

Celine and Jesse's confrontation in their hotel room (which lasts an exhaustive 30 minutes) isn't just a bunch of hatred being thrown around the room and quick forgiveness to hurry to a happy ending. No, their arguments have weight and are often interrupted with moments of understanding, moments where they try their hardest to make the other understand their point of view. You can sense they love each other, but they also resent certain things about each other. Probably the most negative thing you can say about the entire scene is that it will have you looking inward at your own life and relationships so much that you may find yourself pulled out of the film for a moment, which is once again a testament to the impeccable writing and translucent acting.

Before Midnight is the best film I saw this year, which isn't meant to devalue the other films on or off this list. It's just that at the end of the day (or year), no other film impacted me on an emotional level and connected with me more than the continued story of Celine and Jesse. Perhaps it is that connection that was forged two decades ago that has informed this decision more than anything else, but there is no doubt that when it comes to any film (or series) dealing with love, loss and sacrifice, there is nothing quite like Before Midnight which makes it at the very least, the most triumphant film experience I had all year.


Previous Years Picks...


2013 Honorable Mentions
(Other films I wanted on my list but couldn't find room for)

Forget all the people saying to avoid this big screen take on the old fable. Much like John Carter the year before, the film was uncerimoniously discarded by critics and audiences alike upon release which isn't the fate it deserved. The film isn't perfect by any means, the effects sure could use some work, but there is no denying that the film as a whole is just a lot of fun from beginning to end.

There was no way this remake would ever replace the original Sam Raimi classic. But by updating the effects, which were all 100% practical, and having a no holds barred approach to the copious amounts of gore and carnage, this is one remake that can stand tall and proud next to the original that inspired it and not feel ashamed for what it is. All remakes should be handled with this amount of care and respect.

Dallas Buyer's Club

This was a very good year for Matthew McConaughey. Between his fantastic supporting role in Mud and his gloryfied cameo in Wolf of Wall Street, this was the year the actor proved to all his skeptics that he is more than just a pretty face. But it was his work in Dallas Buyer's Club (his unnatural physical transformation not withstanding), that really turned this once detractor of his into a believer. Jared Leto's supporting performance is also worth noting since he steals nearly every scene he is in.

If you have become a Michael Bay hater (Bayter?) over the past decade because of his horrible Transformers films, that is somewhat of a tragedy. Because when the fabled action director isn't busy destroying our childhood memories, he sometimes produces some quality popcorn entertainment. Pain & Gain not only has the dubious honor of being the director's best film since Bad Boys 2, but it also quite possibly features the best performance of Dwayne Johnson's career. If you passed on this because of Bay's name, give it another chance, it's worth it.

Baz Luhrman is at his best when he is dealing with a tragic love story set against an ever lasting party filled with all sorts of debauchery and scandalous affairs. Much like his best film to date Moulin Rouge, his adaptation of the romance novel The Great Gatsby is filled with tragedy, true love and plenty of grand musical numbers. The cast is great, the music is great, the story is great,....this Gatsby is great.

Who knew it would take 6 films for a franchise to hit its peak? It's difficult for any sequel to be better than the original, but when the original is the laughably bad The Fast & The Furious, it isn't that difficult of a notion. Filled with some fantastic action and a very likeable cast, the sixth excursion into the insanity of car thieves turned vigilante is the best yet. Unfortunately, you really do need to see the other 5 films to understand what is happening here.

Not nearly as good as director J.J. Abrams better-than-it-should-have-been reboot of the franchise from a few years back, but still a lot of fun and filled with some amazing special effects sequences that raises the bar for all future Trek sequels. The nods and homages to The Wrath of Khan are a little much and used for all the wrong reasons, but there is no denying the chemistry of the cast and when you have Benedict Cumberbatch as your villain, how could you go wrong?

If there were one film that nearly everyone had written off before its release last summer, it was without a doubt World War Z. From the number of troubles reported from the set to a completely new ending written and filmed at the last minute, this adaptation of the popular novel of the same name shouldn't have worked nearly as well as it did. It isn't a good adaptation of the novel, but it is a fun action adventure that just so happens to have some zombies thrown in for good measure.

Do you like the original Pirates of the Carribbean? Do you like westerns? Do you like Johnny Depp? If you answered yes to all of those then there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn't like The Lone Ranger. Sure, it was way too long and the tone was all over the place, but those are the same complaints people had about the original Pirates film. The only thing the film is guilty of is being TOO similar to that Pirates film. If that bothers you, then stay away, otherwise forget what everyone else has told you and check it out for yourself, you just may find that you like it.

This should have been every Sci-Fi geek's wet dream come true, and it almost was. If not for the poorly written characters and some questionable casting choices, Guillermo del Toro's big robots versus big monsters action extravanganza would have been the second coming of Godzilla. But alas, all we have as a consolation prize is a final hour of a two hour film with some of the most amazing throwdowns between titan-sized opponents you will ever see. Here's hoping we get that sequel that has been rumored about which would give del Toro a much deserved second stab at getting it right.

Forget Evil Dead. Forget The Conjuring. Forget Insidious: Chapter 2. This is the best horror film released last year hands down. It also has the unfortunate honor of being the most overlooked horror film of the year as well. While you can't be blamed for missing it during its all too brief theatrical run, there is absolutely no excuse for missing it now that you can see it anywhere. Just make sure to see it before its many twists and turns are revealed by an unsuspecting friend who doesn't care enough to respect your right to being surprised.

It took over a decade for Riddick to return to the big screen and he couldn't have picked a better film to return in. Eschewing the epic nature of Chronicles of Riddick and embracing the isolation of Pitch Black, Riddick's latest adventure finds him left for dead on an alien planet where the mercenaries after his head are only the beginning of his problems when the deadly secret of the barren world  is discovered. If you loved Pitch Black and weren't much of a fan of Chronicles, this is the sequel you have been waiting for.

While it is debateable whether or not the film is a concert or a glorified music video, the one thing that isn't up for debate is how amazing this film featuring the world's greatest metal band is. Forgetting about the already outstanding soundtrack for a second, what really pulls everything together in the end is both the members of Metallica and director Nimrod Antal's incorporation of this admittedly bizarre set of circumstances surrounding a roadie on a mission and how his adventure is connected to the events happening at the concert. This is without a doubt the most unique and awe inspiring concert film you will ever see.

This biopic on Jackie Robinson, the first African American baseball player to make the switch to the Major Leagues, was a breath of fresh air in the months leading to the summer time madness. After months of borderline horrible films, with a few highlights, 42 came out swinging and gave the historical sports figure a fitting tribute with a film that was better than most expected and helped remind us why baseball stories make the best sports films.

This was a great year for love stories (see my top films of the year of which you will find no less than 3 there), but not so much for the annual number of rom/com's we receive each year. Then came along this wonderful little gem of a movie called About Time, which came out of nowhere. Despite checking off every single component needed to make it a bonefied hit (Unknown English leading actor, American leading lady, that zany English sense of humor, Bill Nighy and an undeniably intriguing, and well executed, subplot about time travel that helps us examine the life choices we make), the film failed to find its audience. Well, it's about time to change that don't you think?

The first Hunger Games landed on my most disappointing films of the year when it was released. This sequel however fixed nearly all the problems that film had by not only giving the story a sense of urgency and danger, but also ratcheting up the action quota and setting the stage for what will surely be one helluva finale. It's rare that a film franchise stumbles out the gate to find its footing with its sequel, but since this franchise was bound for future sequels regardless of its quality, we should be happy that the filmmakers cared enough to improve it instead of leaving things well enough alone.

Sure, The Hobbit trilogy will likely never reach the prestigous heights of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but that doesn't mean these new excursions into the world of Middle Earth are any less exciting in their own right. Despite providing better character work and having a much better sense of pace to its journey, the highlight of the film is hands down the introduction of the dragon Smaug. If you are a fan of the fantasy/action/adventure genre, there is no reason why you shouldn't agree that The Desolation of Smaug is nothing short of great entertainment.

Spike Jonze is one of the most enigmatic directors working today. His films defy explanation, his stories defy classification and his style always casts illumination on how he sees the world through his decidedly (and wonderfully) bizarre sensibilities. His latest film, Her, is his most "normal" film to date, but considering we are talking about the man who made Being John Malkovich (one of the most brilliantly bizarre films ever created), then "normal" isn't saying much. Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johnansson (in voice form only) help bring this intoxicating and completely unorothodx romance to life.


Most Disappointing Films of 2013
(Films that I was looking forward to that sadly let me down)

The zombie genre is without a doubt one genre that could use some new life (pun intended). This strange mixture of your typical teen rom/com and a zombie creature feature seemed poised to do just that before it unfortunately crashed and burned in its tragically fragmented final moments where it wants to be everything, a happy romance and a monster movie, for everyone and ends up not satisfying either crowd.

Even though it was the first true breakout hit of the year and that it was directed by geek approved director Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Spider-man), the film failed on so many levels that it is quite impressive that so many people were blindsided by its colorful (but poorly executed) effects and some of the worst casting choices since Batman & Robin. While James Franco's creepy Oz can be forgiven for just picking the wrong actor for the role, Mila Kunis as the Wicked Witch transcended bad casting to turn in a performance that is the very epitome of awful and quite honestly ruined any and all attempts by the film to create an emotional connection to her tragic character.

And the winner for the best first hour of any film this year goes to....Oblivion. The setting was interesting, the cast was good, the music was amazing and the visual artestry was awe inspiring, but when you learn that the intriguing story that was built up over the first hour was nothing more than a ruse or red herring for a completely disfunctional second half where plot holes and all kinds of problems pop up, it's difficult to not feel cheated. It's rare for the false reality of a film to be more interesting than the action heavy true reality that is revealed later, but by the time we got to our umpteenth Sci-fi cliche it was time to check out.

Tony Stark invaded the villain's lair. Read that again. Tony...Stark...invaded the villain's lair. Not Iron Man...Tony Stark. That is the biggest flaw in Iron Man 3, a film filled to the brim with flaws. When I went to see this third (and possible final) chapter in the Iron Man story, call me crazy, but I wanted to see Iron Man. As much as I love Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, the fact that he was out of the suit for more than 85% of the entire film was downright criminal. That's not to say anything about the twist with the Mandarin which left us with a really pathetic villain for Tony Stark...err, I mean Iron Man to fight. What a let down.

The first thought that might pop into your head at this point is how this was actually good enough to warrant not being in the worst films of the year? Well, truth be told, After Earth isn't the horrible piece of trash you have been led to believe. Sure, the film reeks of Will Smith's nepotism and his son Jayden's horrible acting, plus some extremely laughably bad moments that only director M. Night Shyalaman could be responsible for, but there is some good to be found here. There is a decent movie here with some interesting ideas behind it, you just have to be willing to take the decent with the bad.

The Purge wins for the single best concept of the year while simultaneously winning for butchering the best concept of the year. The idea of a version of America where one night a year we can do anything we want, including murder, and get away with it is all kinds of awesome and one that is brimming with possibilities. Sadly though, the actual film this concept is stuck in ends up being nothing more than another home invasion film with a couple of extra bells and whistles thanks to the intriguing, but shamefully underutilized high concept.

This was supposed to be the movie that proved that Channing Tatum could carry a large summer blockbuster on his shoulders as the leading man. Instead, it proved why that will likely never happen due mainly to a piss poor and arguably bland performance by Tatum as our main action hero. Constantly upstaged by everyone around him, including a better than expected turn by Jamie Foxx as the President, Tatum is better off in films with an ensemble cast where his charm is much better suited.

All the ads and marketing said this was the Wolverine movie we had been waiting for. Sadly, we are gonna have keep waiting because this piss poor excuse for a Wolverine movie barely scratches the surface for what a real hard R rated Wolverine movie could be. Some may point out that it is far better than X-Men Origins Wolverine, which is true, but that is the same as comparing two pieces of crap and seeing which one stinks less.

The only ass that got kicked in this lame sequel to the very fun original is anyone who plunked down their hard earned cash to see it. Taking the first film's main attraction, Hit Girl, and turning her story into some sort of super hero version of Mean Girls and pulling an Iron Man 3 by having her suit up only a couple of times made the already boring parts with Kick-Ass that much more intolerable. Hopefully they just let this franchise die and we can at least forget this tragedy ever happened.

Despite it's financial success, this sequel to the somewhat overrated original Anchorman is bankrupt on nearly every level. The comedy is uninspired, the cast seems to be oblivious to the fact that they have a script (or did they?) and Will Ferrell's looney tunes antics are at an all time low. If this is what a legion of fans and a few online petitions gets us when we want a sequel that the movie studio doesn't want to make, then I suggest we give them the benefit of the doubt next time.

This years biggest piece of Oscar bait, and man did they lure nearly everyone in. Directed by the man responsible for The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook (two films that did deserve the attention) and featuring nearly every major actor from those films (who also deserved the attention), American Hustle is probably the biggest con of the year because all the filmmakers did was ride the wave of good publicity their previous films had and show up with a film that seemed important on the surface, but later is discovered to just be a scam.


Top 5 Worst Films of 2013
(The worst of the worst. The ones that made me want to stop watching movies)


The best thing that can be said about Stephanie Meyer's The Host is that thank goodness it bombed. Otherwise we would be looking towards another Twilight tragedy of epic praportions with a sequel each year. But since no one showed up when it was released, it will likely fade away and hit bargain bins almost immediately, which is more than this silly little Sci-fi curiosity deserves.


It is difficult to make even a decent comedy where some of the jokes work on any level. But it is even more difficult to make a film, starring two veteran comedic actors, that is billed as a comedy yet never illicits even a single smirk from the audience. The blatant Google advertising aside, this poor excuse for a comedy died a quick death at the box office last summer and the world is better for it because if it did succeed then we would probably be looking at a Yahoo movie this year featuring Jason Bateman and Ben Stiller.


Director Nicolas Winding Refn made an instant classic with his 2011 film Drive and his follow up feature Only God Forgives, which wasn't nearly as high profile, was his chance to show that he was a force to be reckoneded with. Instead though, he released one of the most incomprehensible and baffling films of the year. Not even bringing along his leading man from Drive, Ryan Gosling, could save this film from the depths of hell it will be torturing souls at for all eternity. This one was jaw droppingly bad.


Until Bruce Willis recently came out and said in an interview that he only does action movies for the paycheck anymore, his fifth adventure as the resilient detective John McClane was just a horrible mess of a movie that didn't even resemble the excriment squeezed out by even the last turd that tried to pass itself off as a Die Hard movie. But now, knowing that he likely doesn't even read the scripts when he signs on the dotted line, it not only makes more sense as to why he would purposefully attach himself to such unforgiveable crap, it is also somehow even more insulting that he knowingly lures his legion of action fans into the crap with him.


Why?....Whyyyyyy?...WHY!? Why did anyone pay money to see this? Why is Adam Sandler still able to make movies? Why was this a bigger hit than Pacific Rim, This Is The End and countless other better movies? Who sees this and likes it enough to SEE IT AGAIN? There are no insults left to throw at the film, it has broken me. Do me, and the world, a favor and if you know anyone that saw this and liked it enough to either see it more than once or own it, slap them. Unfriend them from Facebook, twitter and all other forms of social media because we don't need their kind promoting this kind of awefulness in our lives.

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