Wednesday, January 15, 2014

2013: A Year at the Movies


Oscar nominations come out tomorrow, so I thought this was as good a time as any to release a preliminary ranking of last year's movies. There are a few I still hope to see in theaters (Inside Llewyn Davis please), and many more I missed and have yet to catch on home video (why do I have to wait until March for The Grandmaster?). In light of this, I will likely do another retrospective when the Oscars are over, but for now here is my ranked list of all the movies I watched from 2013. Some of them are very close (I feel almost the same amount of love for American Hustle and Side Effects) and some of them have gaps I didn't know quite how to visualize (between Europa Report and Now You See Me my feelings jump from disappointment to frustration), but for the most part I tried to break up the list into sensible chunks. So without further ado:

          The A-Listers          

1. 12 Years a Slave
Directed by Steve McQueen

A movie I expect will remain a touchstone with regard to how movies talk about race for a long time to come. Full review.

2. Gravity
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron

A giant leap forward in terms of cinematography not only for science fiction but for cinema in general. Full review.

3. Her
Directed by Spike Jonze

Some of the year's most compelling writing ironically comes from a combination of two of cinema's most overplayed genres.

4. The Wolf of Wall Street
Directed by Martin Scorsese

In another ironic turn of events, the funniest comedy of the year is no laughing matter. Full review.

5. American Hustle
Directed by David O. Russell

This zany, immoral and seductive caper gives us some of the year's best acting and most memorable characters.

6. Side Effects
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Soderbergh spikes his thriller with elements of horror to see if our knuckles can get any whiter. Full review.

7. Frozen
Directed by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee

If I could only show my kids this one movie, I'd gladly watch it with them every time.


          Great But Not The Best          

8. Upstream Color
Directed by Shane Carruth

Its lack of clarity or traditional narrative structure is perfectly offset by its beauty and originality.

9. Spring Breakers
Directed by Harmony Korine

While I'm not even sure it knows what it wants to say, it says it so loudly you won't be able to look away.

10. Frances Ha
Directed by Noah Baumbach

The closest the mumblecore movement has come to exposing genuine humanity, this hits pretty close to home.

11: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Directed by Francis Lawrence

Some of the year's best entertainment on the big screen is led for once by a great female protagonist. Full review.

12: Oldboy
Directed by Spike Lee

It's so hard to care that the South Korean masterpiece didn't need a remake when what came out is so good. Full review.

13: Much Ado About Nothing
Directed by Joss Whedon

An obvious passion project for Joss Whedon, the wonderful cast makes it easy to appreciate Shakespeare.

14. Dallas Buyers Club
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee

While I feel bad rooting for a homophobic hero, his fight against big pharma is well acted and emotionally compelling. Full review.

15. The World's End
Directed by Edgar Wright

It's hard to decide if it's a better touching personal journey or hilariously excessive sci-fi romp since it succeeds at both. Analysis.


          Pretty Typical But Still Quite Fun          

16. Oblivion
Directed by Joseph Kosinski

While it may not be the most original sci-fi of the year, it combines its recycled elements in an exceptionally fun way. Full review.

17. This Is the End
Directed by Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen

There's something unique and genuinely human about this ultimately inane sci-fi comedy.

18. Star Trek Into Darkness
Directed by J. J. Abrams

There may be too many lens flares to count, but J.J.'s eye for quality makes this reboot sequel a joy to watch. Full review.

19. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Directed by Peter Jackson

What could have been one of the best movies of the year comes up short thanks to mediocre storytelling. Full review.

20. The Heat
Directed by Paul Feig

A fun action comedy which suffers slightly from its over-reliance on the popularity of Boston-based buddy-cop flicks. Short review.

21. Stoker
Directed by Chan-wook Park

There's not much beneath the sheets of this psycho-sexual thriller, but the beautiful visuals will be enough for many.

22. Pacific Rim
Directed by Guillermo del Toro

Del Toro should probably have higher standards, but anyone who says this isn't a monstrously fun time is lying. Full review.
23. Ender's Game
Directed by Gavin Hood

Not as revolutionary as the book it comes from, but an enjoyable vision of some quintessential sci-fi. Full reviewanalysisoriginal predictions.

24. Don Jon
Directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt

A fresh take on the romantic comedy which sets its sights on emotional and thematic depth it never quite reaches. Full review.
25. Evil Dead
Directed by Fede Alvarez

Enjoyable update to the classic which doesn't push any boundaries but is fun if you go into it with the right expectations.

26. The East
Directed by Zal Batmanglij

Although it often gets bogged down in its superficial politics, structurally this was one of the year's better thrillers. Full review.
27. Elysium
Directed by Neill Blomkamp

While it may press the easy button a few times, it's hard to deny Neill Blomkamp and Matt Damon's combined abilities. Full review.

28. Despicable Me 2
Directed by Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud

There are plenty of laughs and moments of genuine feeling, but more than anything this sequel feels uninspired.
29. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
Directed by Tommy Wirkola

Tommy Wirkola's enthusiasm makes what should have been stupid and forgettable into something fun.

30. White House Down
Directed by Roland Emmerich

This epitome of the shallow action movie at least finds some enjoyment in reusing its tired tropes.

31. Mama
Directed by Andres Muschietti

A competently acted exciting new fairy tale for grown ups which is obscured by pointless jump scares.

32. Carrie
Directed by Kimberly Peirce

The acting is all top notch, but the tone is charming where it should be tense and lovable where it should be horrifying

33. World War Z
Directed by Marc Forster

You can't blame it for getting mired in development hell, but what came out the other end is worse for wear. Short review.


          There's Something Wrong Here          

34. Only God Forgives
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

What could have been either an intense revenge film or an arthouse modern classic gets stuck in between and does neither.

35. Europa Report
Directed by Sebastian Cordero

Above average and mostly original found footage sci-fi ruined by its preachy, dumbed-down expository framework. Short review.

36. Now You See Me
Directed by Louis Letterier

Fun the first time through but exponentially less so each time thereafter. Full review.

37. Trance
Directed by Danny Boyle

A prettier but somehow emptier version of Now You See Me with tasteless sexual politics. Full review.

38. Oz The Great and Powerful
Directed by Sam Raimi

A fun and pretty but ultimately vacuous homage to a classic.

39. The Wolverine
Directed by James Mangold

More of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, this time in a one-dimensional portrait of Japan.

40. Riddick
Directed by David Twohy

David Twohy forgets what made the original films fun and kills his own franchise. Full review.

41. After Earth
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

The only thing extraordinary about this movie is how lifeless it is.


Seeing as I've only watched a small selection of this year's films (and less than half of those making award buzz) I can't really claim to be qualified to make too many Oscar predictions. But if I had to guess, these would be my picks for Best Picture (in alphabetical order): 12 Years a Slave, American HustleAugust: Osage County, Blue JasmineGravity, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, Philomena, and The Wolf of Wall Street. Other possibilities which wouldn't surprise me include Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers ClubRush, and Saving Mr. Banks. Slightly longer shots include All is Lost, Enough SaidFrances Ha, and Out of the Furnace. I'd be pleasantly surprised to see either Upstream ColorSpring Breakers, or The World's End in the nominations, but my expectations are pretty negligible.

2 comments:

  1. A nice variety of films here, whose rankings I both agree with and disagree with. But that's okay - I'm more interested in mindless stuff rather then technical achievement or philosophical subjects. I hope to see '12 Years A Slave' in a couple of weeks and then comment on your review. I did an analysis on my top 2013 movies and realised that sci-fi, true stories, action thrillers and crime dramas are what I'm most interested in and this will dictate my cinema visits in 2014. Perhaps you too could analyse your top movies genre-wise. I probably need to recommend to you 'Captain Phillips' plus two crime dramas/thrillers which may impress you, if you like good characters: 'The Place Beyond the Pines' and 'Prisoners'. I hope to see 'Only God Forgives' for some mysterious reason, 'Oldboy' remake, maybe 'Spring Breakers' too. 'Her' didn't get released here where I live, but 'Wolf of Wall Street' should be out soon, and I hope it's not boring.

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    Replies
    1. Hey Dan, thanks for the comment as always!

      As for genres, I like some of the same stuff you do. I love sci-fi more than anything, with psychological thrillers in a close second. Sometimes I have trouble with dramas if I think they feel self-important, but when they're good they're really good. I don't really look at true stories as a separate genre, but I totally understand liking them as a separate category. Slowly realized this year that I actually don't like action unless it has strong story or character backing (or unless it's at least exceptionally pretty, Pacific Rim). Just some thoughts on genre.

      As to your recommendations, thanks I always appreciate it. I have been meaning to see Captain Phillips because Tom Hanks and general award buzz, but it just looks like it has really questionable race relations, and the controversy surrounding whether the real life Phillips is or is not an asshole is pretty off-putting, but I'm definitely going to watch it before the Oscars. Been meaning to watch Beyond the Pines for what feels like almost a year, I remember when it came out and I really wanted to see it, but it's so long and it's hard to find a big enough time slot, but again I'm sure I'll see it eventually. Prisoners is next on my list for whenever I have the time & the inclination to watch a serious drama, so maybe tomorrow or Monday.

      Only God Forgives is a really polarizing movie. I didn't like it, but there are many who did, so I wouldn't ever say not to see it. It's unique, and it's particular flavor won't be to everyone's taste, but for some people it's perfect. The same is true of Oldboy and Spring Breakers, both of which just happened to be to my taste. I'm surprised & curious why Her wasn't released where you live, it's not offensive or anything (maybe just small budget?). Wolf of Wall Street is hilarious. Probably the hardest I've laughed in theaters this year.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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