Monday, June 2, 2014

Top Ten Movies 2013

Yes! Believe it or not I'm still updating this website!

Now I've been very busy this past year with being in another country, and then sobering up from being in another country. And trust me that story's coming, as will the rest of that overwrought James Bond thing I am now beginning to heavily regret. But even if I never update this damn thing, even if I'm behind on my articles for that news blog, and even if I completely skipped over my famed Christmas List so I could hang around London with my Latvian friend; you will always, unfailingly, get a pretentious, subjective, overly critical look back on the films of the past year.

Well, if there's one philosophy that has dominated my writing habits, it's "better late than never", so let's get going.

Now, I got mixed reactions from my last list, which is probably the reason I put more time and thought into this one. It's fair criticism, I gave the top spots to Argo and Les Miserables, and while I still love both those movies, I do think, in retrospect, those spots probably belonged to The Master and Dark Knight Rises.

So, I saw as many films as possible in preparation for this list, and while that does not necessarily include every one of the Best Picture nominees, you may see a few you never heard of. Unfortunately, this actually means a lot of truly great films didn't even make the cut. But let's see which ones will be graced with the status of "best of the year" by an overly opinionated, smartass blogger.

10. Gravity
Warner Bros. Entertainment

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are astronauts in space who are viciously attacked by a cloud of evil space debris that tears through their equipment, sending them flying through space. Scientific inaccuracies and screaming occur as the two try to find a way back home that doesn't involve falling.
Let me begin by saying that never before has a 3D film blown me away as much as Gravity did in the theater. I found myself consistently, and genuinely breathless, with how gorgeous the visuals are in the theater. More so than that, I was consistently on the edge of my seat in the theater. In case I haven't gotten it across, this was one of the best theatergoing experiences I've ever had; but when I saw it on DVD for the first time, I have to admit I was a bit underwhelmed. This is probably because it's a suspense drama and I had seen it before by that point, and the film certainly flies on the shoulders of the always-fantastic Sandra Bullock, as well as it's full on nail-biting quality, and it's cinematography. However, it's not a masterpiece, and the simplicity of the story keeps it from being truly timeless. Definitely worth a watch though.

9. Iron Man 3
Disney/Marvel Entertainment

Oh boy, am I going to get hate for this one; especially when I tell you that this and Matthew McConaughey and Jeff Nichols' great collaboration Mud was neck-and-neck for this spot with this bib-budget Avengers sequel (one of three). What doesn't help, is that this has gone down in history among Spider-Man 3, X-Men 3, and even Superman 3 (noticing a theme here?) as one of the most hated superhero films ever, thanks to a brilliant  controversial twist involving the villain. Which is surprising, because the movie's fucking great, to the point that I'm tempted to call it the best film to feature the character. For one thing, Robert Downey Jr. is the only actor I can think of since Connery to be every bit as interesting the fourth time around as he was the first. That, and the fact that he's aided by a script by Shane Black and Drew Pearce that forces everyone's favorite (let's be honest) Marvel superhero to come to terms with the stress brought about by his self-appointed role as an American superhero, completing an arc that started with that now-legendary first film. This is not only one of the funniest films (in what was a very funny year), but easily features some of the best action I've yet seen from this franchise.

8. Blackfish
Magnolia Pictures

Living in San Diego, I'm hard-pressed to think of a film that caused quite as big of a stir as this one (although Escape from Tomorrow certainly tried) in the theme-park enthusiast community. Using heartbreaking testimonials and breathtaking footage, director and documentarian Gabriela Cowperthwaite weaves a fascinating narrative about the behind-the-scenes practices at SeaWorld that led to a young woman being killed by an orca whale. Along the way, we are introduced to one of the most fascinating cinematic villains of the year; a pissed-off mass of blubber and teeth named Tilikum, whose harsh treatment at various theme parks has fostered a form of psychosis that apparently led him to rack up a body count of around three people. However, it soon becomes apparent that the poor animal may not be the real villain. As a documentary about mistreatment at SeaWorld, it is an effective film, effective enough to cause a worldwide discussion about the blame SeaWorld takes in the treatment of its creatures. But, more importantly (in the cinematic sense), it builds a "Moby Dick"-esque  tale of man's inability to control nature (my favorite kind of story). Does it only tell one side of the story? Should SeaWorld, an organization that has given a significant contribution to marine philanthropy, be shut down? Those questions are important, but not as important as the main point, which is to ask whether an animal as emotional, intelligent, and deadly as the Orca whale should be held captive.

7. This is the End
Columbia Pictures

"This is the End", Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's surprise success (the film has a remarkably low budget) asks one question: do celebrity comedians deserve to go to heaven? Do they even deserve to live? It then sets out to parody celebrity culture by telling the story of what happens when comedy superstars Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride find themselves stuck in Franco's LA mansion during the end of the world. Did I mention they're all playing themselves? What follows is by far the funniest film of the year, and perhaps one of the funniest films I've ever seen. Add in the fact that most of the film is improvised, mostly takes place on one set, and features a cameo from Michael Cera that's probably the greatest thing he's ever done, and you can see why people went nuts over this movie.

6. Frozen
Walt Disney Studios

I know, I know, if you're like most Americans, you've probably heard more than enough about this movie, to the point that you may even be beginning to wonder if it's overrated. To be fair, if you're also like most Americans, you've probably had the same feelings about Tangled and The Princess and the Frog, and I actually wasn't that impressed by those two. This film, however, blew me away. Frozen introduces us not to one princess, but two; Anna and Elsa. Elsa has the power to freeze shit with her mind to an extent that would make Iceman from the X-Men blush. However, in a freak accident, she nearly kills Anna, forcing her parents to raise them separately for years, all the while forcing Elsa to hide her powers from the world, believing that the kingdom will try to hurt her if they find out, as opposed to welcoming her as a one-woman Avengers team. But when the king and queen die in whatever storm presumably killed Tarzan's parents (ok I'm done), Elsa is given the kingdom, only to lose control of her emotions and cause a neverending winter, forcing Anna to go out into the cold to save her sister and the kingdom.
 Now, obviously it's a fairytale, so an asshole could find plenty of holes. But the point of fairytales is to stand as stories for larger themes; in this case, one woman's journey to free herself from years of suppressed emotion, and her sister's journey to try and live with a loved one who is volatile, and a little dangerous. A lot has been made about the feminist themes at work here, but that's a topic for another time. The point is, it's been a long time since a Disney movie has made me care for it's characters this much (let alone hum it's songs), and that's pretty cool.

5. The Wolf of Wall Street
Paramount Pictures

If I told you that a film about one man's rise through the world of Wall Street stockbrokers, and his adventures upon finding success with his own firm was one of the most, if not the most, depraved films I've ever seen, you probably wouldn't believe me. If I told you it was directed by Martin Scorsese, you might understand a a little better. The premise, which is pushed out of the way in the first five minutes, involves real-life Wall-Street crook Jordan Belfort, along with his various low-time drug dealer friends, including another great performance from Hill, starting their own investment firm out of a warehouse, and rising to enormous success after convincing clients to invest in shit penny stock. The other two-hours and fifty-five minutes of run time follow Jordan and his buddy Donnie as they "struggle" through a decade of excessive wealth, sex, partying, and lots and lots of drugs. It's a frat boys wet dream, to the point that the characters would almost be incredibly unlikeable if not for the performances, which make us root for Belfort almost as much as his cultish followers, and the great Terence Winter's (Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire) script, which always places the humanity of it's characters at the forefront.
What follows is what can only be described as a comedy epic, enormous in scale and absolutely hilarious. While not perfect; it's runtime, however much of a commentary on the film's excess it provides, is still too long by at least half-an-hour, although god knows I wouldn't know which parts to cut. Does the film glorify the one percent? Is Belfort even a one-percenter? Or is he a Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to his poor friends? These are all questions raised and, mercifully, not really answered.

4. Prisoners
Warner Bros./Alcon Entertainment

One of this years most overlooked films, Prisoners, in my mind at least, easily beats Gravity for the year's most nail-biting thriller, and it's not even set in space! It is set in a murky, dark, suburb in Pennsylvania, which is probably more dangerous, let's be honest. During a routine Thanksgiving visiting his friends, Kelly Dover (Hugh Jackman) and his friend Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) find themselves in a situation far scarier to any parent than being stuck in space; their girls disappear while outside, and the only clue they have to their whereabouts is an RV that was seen in the area. At this point, Jake Gylenhaal joins the story as David Loki (the second coolest Loki to star in a movie this year), the detective assigned to the case, and finds that the RV belonged to Paul Dano. Now, Dano has the IQ of a fourth grader, and unfortunately for Loki, so does the character he's playing, so he's no help. This does not deter Kelly, who, instead of relishing his now quieter house, decides the only way to find his child is to get the information from Dano's character, by any means necessary.

The rest of the film is as intense, disturbing, and, occasionally, horrifying a thriller as any I've seen in a very long time. In many ways, the film asks the same questions about torture and police work that are currently being played out in the world-scale, only in the confines of it's own, morally shady world. Gylenhall gives his best performance in years, and he's aided by a supporting cast that includes Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, and the always welcome Paul Dano. But it's the Wolverine himself who rules the film with a stunningly intense performance. He should be the guy we're rooting for, but it isn't long before we begin to wonder if he's the most monstrous thing in the whole neighborhood.

3. The Hunt
Magnolia Pictures

Ok, so every research I've done on this film has described it as a 2012 film; but it had a (limited) international release in the US (where it was impossible to find) in 2013, and was nominated for most awards in 2013. Also screw you, it's my blog. The point is, I was intrigued by Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg's film ever since I first heard about it's premiere at Cannes, where Hannibal himself, the great Mads Mikkelsen, was honored with a much-deserved Best Actor award.

Much like Prisoners, The Hunt tells a morally confusing story about adults and children who live in a scary area, but comes off as far more human, and therefore, frightening. Lucas (Mikkelsen) is like the Danish version of my friend Marcos, the somewhat socially awkward, but always kind and helpful, member of a small, close-knit Danish community, where he works as an attendant at the local kindergarten. However, things take a horrific turn for the worst when Lucas is accused by Klara, a young student, and daughter of Lucas's best friend, of a pedophilic act. Now, as far as I know, the film is not ambiguous about this point; Lucas is innocent, which makes it that much more frustrating when the entire community of angry white danes turns violently on Lucas, turning him into an outcast. The film is intense, scary, and often absolutely maddening, precisely because Lucas himself is such a nice dude, he fights his injustice little; understanding the anger of his friends. But this starts to change when his family becomes a target as well. Obviously, there are subtitles, but you very quickly forget you're reading the film. Although the climax can leave a bit to be desired, the film is very tense and asks big questions, the kind that don't have easy answers, and is driven by a powerhouse performance by Mikkelsen.

2. American Hustle
Columbia Pictures

And, finally, we come to what is supposedly the most overrated movie of the year. It's weird, but I don't watch a lot of David O' Russel's movies, perhaps because he's apparently the biggest asshole in Hollywood, having gotten into fistfights with Clooney, Nolan, and many others. He's stopped that attitude, but only, apparently, because fighting Bale or Lawrence wouldn't end well for his image or face or both. But, the point I'm making, is that I should probably watch more of his movies (I did like The Fighter) if they're like this, because, fuck it, this movie's fantastic.

Christian Bale is fantastic as Irving Rosenfeld, a small-time scam artist who falls in love with Sydney Prosser, a small-time scam artist played fantastically by Amy Adams. They both get in deep shit when Richie DiMaso, a small time scam artist played, in a fantastic performance, by Bradley Cooper, catches up to them both, and threatens to throw them in jail unless they help him with some big time scams for the IRS. Sydney wants to run away, but Irving can't leave his wife, a small-time scam artist named Rosalyn (the fantastic Jennifer Lawrence), and kid, a small-time scam artist whose a baby. I know it sounds like I'm being facetious, but only because it's almost ludicrous how much talent is on display here. You see, Richie wants to catch a bunch of suspicious public officials taking bribes, and he needs Irving and Sydney's help to do it, but along the way, Irving begins to realize that their targets may include some innocent people, like Carmine Polito, the well-meaning mayor of Atlantic City, played by Jeremy Renner in a career-best performance. Add in the fact that he's caught in a vicious love triangle between Richie, Sydney, and Rosalyn, and Irving may very quickly be over his head. Throw in some great cameos from Robert DeNiro, Louis CK, Jack Huston, and Michael Pena, and you have easily the greatest cast this entire year.

This is a character-driven movie, which is great because the characters are easily some of the most fascinating I've seen in a long while, and O'Russel manages to get some of these actors best work to come out on screen. It's technically a drama, but it should say something about the film's writing that it's also one of the funniest movies in a year filled with them. Any time a film starts with the phrase "some of this actually happened" you know you're in for a treat.

1. Jurassic Park 3D
Universal Studios

Ok, ok, ok, more of an honorable mention really, the film that has sustained infamy among our viewership as my favorite film of all time actually came out in 1993, so it doesn't count here. However, if even there was a modicum of doubt that Spielberg's sci-fi masterpiece is, in fact, my favorite movie ever, it was wiped away a year ago when he it appeared in theaters for the first time in a two decades. Not coincidentally, it's rerelease was successful enough that a sequel, mercifully ignoring the last two, was announced not long after its run at the box office.

Now, obviously, the story of a group of hapless scientists invited to stay at a theme park where DNA technology has recreated Dinosaurs for the public, has seen more than it's fair share of showing in my household, ever since I was a kid. However, as I got older and memorized everything from the lines to the roars to the sounds Jeff Goldblum makes, I stopped, well, watching it while watching it. It was only in a theater, with the admittedly glorious 3D, that I was forced to notice all the deeper themes I never picked up on. Themes of age, evolution, and the often violent chaos that comes with change in the world. It's like No Country, only more fun, and probably better. Even in a film this big, Spielberg's subtleties are still on full display. It was like watching it for the very first time, and I can't remember a better moviegoing experience than that.

1. The Spectacular Now
A24 Films

But out of the films that actually released this year, the one that impressed me the most was arguably the least likely, that being James Ponsoldt's breakout, under-the-radar summer treasure, that stands among the best coming-of-age tales ever made. I did not think, upon first hearing of this film, that it would have the effect on me that it did.

Miles Teller, in what will be a breakout role if there is any justice in the world, stars as Sutter, a popular, fun-loving, borderline hedonistic high school senior. He's not incredibly interested in grades, or finding his passion in life, or finding a college that will accept him. You know, all those things they keep saying you're supposed to do in high school. He's mostly interested in drinking, working for Saul Goodman, trying to get back at his ex, and generally acting like a shithead. However, everything changes when he meets Aimee Finecky, a shy young girl played brilliantly by Secret Life's Shailene Woodley. Aimee does not have a lot of friends, and is stuck at home with her possessive family, so Sutter's flirtation with her is kind of narcissistic and curious at first, but blossoms into love when he realizes how happy she makes him. However, the effect goes both ways, and as Sutter begins to learn more about his life, and where it's headed, he realizes he may be a bad influence on the always-forgiving Aimee.

The Spectacular Now is a fascinating movie for a lot of reasons. Besides hitting all the funny, sweet, and occasionally heartbreaking notes every romance is supposed to hit, it also manages to have just enough clever twists to keep from being predictable. Not only that, but it's startlingly real and human. The characters feel and act like real teenagers at that age (and we would all know), to the point that by the end, we are just as unwilling as Sutter to say goodbye to them all. The fact that I haven't seen it on quite as many lists makes it feel that much more special. It's a genuine treasure, and more than worth checking out.

No comments:

Post a Comment