12 January 2014

Good and Bad of 2013: Epiode One - What I Loved

2013: What I Loved


In what is probably the oddest assortment of favorites I've had yet on this irregularly updated blog, 2013 seemed destined to be a year of "meh" movies, ones that didn't particularly move me one way or another, especially after 2011 and 2012 had clear standout productions. My worries were maximized as anxious flicks like Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness failed to resonate with me all that much. But this was really the year of surprises, as I'll explain below.

At the time of this writing, there's still some films I would like to have seen that remain unseen, thanks to Mankato's unfailing repertoire of not playing anything that isn't a big budget wide release. The likes of the  Inside Llewyn Davis and Blue Jasmine, for example, have yet to hit around here, and I've been quite interested in Lake Bell's In a World (which at least hits DVD soon). So below remains mostly unfinished, but for now, it's as complete as it could be.

One honorable mention I want to bring attention to is Blue is the Warmest Color. It's one of the most raw and real portrayals of young and adult love that I've ever witnessed, and boasts scenes (e.g., the emotional whirlwind of a diner scene) that won't leave the mind anytime soon. But for all its exceptional character building and accomplished realism, it simply didn't grab me in a wholly positive note. Without hesitation, I'd recommend it to any interested party, but the film left me, regrettably, indifferent.

The below list is in no numerical, ranking order. They are simply the movies that I cherished in 2013, with small explanations why. Some of these will be on many lists released for the year, while others, not so much. Enjoy!

The Way, Way Back

I am a sucker for coming-of-age stories, I absolutely am, and The Way, Way Back, written by the guys behind The Descendants, is one of the better releases in this subgenre I've seen in a while. 2013's much celebrated The Spectacular Now failed to make much of an impact on me, compared to this work. Perhaps it's the different approaches each film took. Spectacular Now aimed for gritty realism, and The Way, Way Back favored a whimsical, cheeky (but still noticeably dark) tone that made it a more fun enterprise to watch. The main lead may not have been able to match the wit of the script, in the films only real drawback, but the phenomenal work of Sam Rockwell and the shockingly layered turn of Steve Carrel definitely catapults this flick to a real favorite. Watching Duncan pushed into situations he's uncomfortable with, and eventually growing into his own and even displaying confidence, it's a fun journey, and with a script full of witticisms, it's hard not to constantly blurt this title out as a recommendation.

Evil Dead

Defying all logic of the trend that 'remakes suck', here's a remake that is simply phenomenal. My ideal horror setup is nothing like that of The Conjuring and Insidious - I want to see normal people fighting against an indestructible, impossibly imposing monster or demon of chaos, and I want to see how they react and survive this harbinger of doom. This Evil Dead, accompanied by a good atmosphere of dread, accomplishes that. It's harsh, it's brutal, it's bloody, and there's an unpredictability and intense horror to everything that unfolds onscreen. What's more, it delivers a climax that is thrilling and utterly engrossing. I recall being in the theater and completely immersed in Mia's plight as the blood rain started to drip, and when the truck got turned over to its side - I was overcome with anxiety and dread of what was about to happen. This is my type of horror movie - real, intense, and chaotic. I don't mind the excessive gallons of blood - it works here, I think. The characters are defined well enough for purposes of caring about them, all save The Girlfriend, who possesses not even a blimp of a personality, but it's a small complaint to lodge towards an otherwise phenomenal production.

Man of Steel

They made Superman cool again, and that right there is an accomplishment that deserves Top 10 placement even if the flick sucked. Luckily, it doesn't, and the reason it doesn't can be attributed to three men - producer Christopher Nolan, writer David S. Goyer, and director Zack Snyder. It was Goyer's brilliant approach to presenting Superman in a post-Dark Knight trilogy age that got the project off the ground and made everything interesting, and it was Snyder who visualized the script into a living, breathing world of alien planets and realistic soaring-through-the-sky sequences. There are some drawbacks - I would have appreciated more of Kal's Becoming Superman arc, which I feel wasn't fleshed out well enough, and the fan inside me still squirms at the resolution to General Zod, although the writer in me completely understands and can justify why it happened and the great material they can juice from that subplot in the sequel. There's just a lot to love and respect from this film. The visuals are stunning, no doubt about that; the score is perfect, with a Superman theme that fits the character to a T; the reality-based world makes it all the more thrilling and relatable (guys, stop giving the movie a hard time for the IHOP and Sears stuff - there's an in-context reason for it all). So, so good.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Wasn't overly crazy about the first Hunger Games, but lo and behold, I look at Catching Fire as a near flawless production, and easily my favorite hero-figure related movie of the year. I sing praises to every aspect of this film, with perhaps the minor exception of the unremarkable music. What I will say is that I became so emotionally enthralled in this film it stunned me. Katniss' confessional in District 11 was the most heartfelt thing I listened to/watched all year. The character beats that occupied the first hour and thirty minutes of its runtime was pitch perfect. Sure, the Arena battles are what brings in the guys (and the unanimous agreement of Jennifer Lawrence's gorgeousness), but it's the emotional and character moments that stick with me to this day, three times and two months after first seeing it. A tremendously good movie, and when it hits Blu-Ray, I will be rewatching it. A lot.

The Wolf of Wall Street

A genuine surprise. Despite its bloated running time, there's not a single thing I could fathom cutting from this. Every scene ties directly into story or, at the very least, character development. From the ambitious upbringings to his drug-induced cerebral palsy, Leo's Jordan Belfort is a magnificent character, and a equally magnificent performance from a guy who, to me, just seems like he's doing the same variation of the same character in each flick he's in. What I didn't quite expect was the level of humor the film offered, and that, complimented with one of the most tremendously written scripts of the year, easily made this an unforgettable film that damn well deserved Best Of consideration. Yes, it's three hours, but it's three hours of storytelling I'd like to sit through again and again.

Short Term 12

There was a tweet I loved that said something along the lines of "best actress: Brie Larson (Short Term 12), Brie Larson (Don Jon), Brie Larson (The Spectacular Now)", and frankly, I'd be hard pressed to argue with that in the slightest. Brie Larson is utterly superb in this emotionally gut-wrenching film, nearly upstaged by the young Kaitlyn Dever (who already impressed me with her stint on Justified's second season), as Grace and Jayden, respectively. Hell, the entire cast is superb. You know a movie has grabbed you when there's certain moments, scenes, or lines of dialogue that stick with you long after seeing the movie. Short Term 12 is just like that. From the opening and closing stories told by the lovable John Gallagher, Jr. to the cathartic heart to heart and subsequent car decimation, Short Term 12 is extraordinarily moving and compelling.

The World's End

Biased. On my death bed, one of the last five movies I watch will be Hot Fuzz. My love for The World's End is not as high as Fuzz, but the more I watch this film, the conclusion of the Cornetto Trilogy (or Three Flavors, however you want to call it), the more the layers of complexity and ingenuity and sheer brilliance become evident and the jokes become funnier. It's one of those flicks that gain with repeat viewings. A story of being stuck in the past, a Invasion of the Body Snatchers-esque A plot, loads of sci-fi elements and callbacks, smart, crisp dialogue, and Edgar Wright's amazingly creative and animated directing style, The World's End is extraordinarily complex and endlessly fun.

The Wolverine

More than any film on this list, The Wolverine had the most to prove. After the disastrous, abysmal, preposterous, ridiculous, asinine X-Men Origins: Wolverine, suffice to say, I was skeptical. Lo and behold, with the exception of a third act that seems borrowed from another movie entirely, this was amazingly good. A deeply character driven story where the setting reflected the character, and a arc that was both moving and compelling. Logan's lost everyone he's ever cared about, and has left whatever remained of the X-Men, where is he to go, what is he to do? Finding purpose and reclaiming his life is what this movie is about, and for an hour and thirty minutes of its two hour running time, it was about as near perfect as I could ever have hoped. This is what happens when there's an emphasis on character instead of how many mutants can fit into a movie, and it is extraordinary.

The Family 

Pacing issues aside, there's something so interesting about this movie that I can't fully explain, but I blame the really quite clever script for my lingering affection for The Family. And this coming from a guy who isn't a fan of anything mobsters. The thing that works with this flick is that this family really works as a unit, as a whole who respect and don't undermine each other. They're all ridiculously intelligent and driven characters with their own personalities and agendas. It could easily have unraveled into this obnoxious teens-rebel-against-evil-father shtick, but instead opted for something smarter and more entertaining. With such strong characters and a script that brings humor out of the way these characters interact with a world outside their own reality, The Family isn't necessarily one of 2013's best, but it's definitely a bright spot in a year of otherwise so-so endeavors.

Frozen

Amazing. Absolutely amazing. Two strong female characters take front and center while the cliched handsome love interests are sidelined, exceptionally witty and intelligent writing, loads of memorable songs one can't help but want to burst out singing after watching, intricately detailed and beautiful animation - Frozen is everything Brave and Tangled should have been. Long had I denied any interest in watching Frozen, and I couldn't be happier giving in. Elsa and Anna are so richly defined as individuals, it's maddening why more characters aren't written like them. Olaf the snowman is hilarious with nearly every line. The digital animation with the ice and snow is just as meticulously detailed as Sully's fur in Monsters Inc. With the small exception of the opening song and maybe one or two other songs, Frozen is about as flawless as they come. The ending does tie up in a neat little bow a bit too easily, but it's a small complaint in what was one of the most enjoyable flicks of 2013.

Gravity

Yes, the visuals are gorgeous, and Steven Price's music will haunt me for months to come, but what I loved about Gravity was the story, the character arc of Ryan Stone (Sanda Bullock). A woman who suffered a lost and doesn't really have too much enthusiasm to live, what's there to live for? Everything that transpires up there in space is this one giant resurrection. She needs to go through Hell to live again, to find that drive, to feel something other than emptiness. And those last fifteen minutes - riveting, intense, heart-poundingly intense. This movie shouldn't exist. It didn't look commercial, it's inventive and original, and it takes risks in so many departments, yet it's here, it's real, and it's mind-boggling good. I sincerely, mega-ly love this movie.

Machete Kills

I'm allowed to have a fun movie on this list, right? Well here it is. The first Machete was gutted with political mumbo jumbo taking precedence over the absurdity, which is where this series' strength lies. Machete Kills remedies that and course corrects. Gone are any political agendas, instead, what we have here is a fun action flick that adheres to no logical rules that exist in this world, and instead does anything and goes anywhere writer/director Robert Rodriguez's imagination can muster, and it's a ridiculously fantastic time because of that.

Side Effects

I saw this back in January or February, and it hasn't left me since. Originally thinking this was to be some boring 'anti-drugs' film, it slowly evolved into a mystery, and then transformed into a thriller, and then transformed into some psychotic what-the-hell-is-going-on? type of film, and I love it for that. Unpredictability. Being daring and unexpected. And there's some phenomenal performances here. After being so-so as Lisbeth Salander, Rooney Mara really showed her acting chops here, and Jude Law and Catherine Zeta Jones were flawless. Even Channing Tatum wasn't horrible in his minor role. Side Effects held my attention from the opening scenes and maintained that momentum for two hours. Moody, layered, frightening, Side Effects is one unnervingly good film.

1 comment:

Jason Hemming said...

Taking some risks with choosing Man of Steel, Machete Kills and Wolverine on this list. Considering that they were on many peoples worst of list. Agree with you on Gravity's intensity and I too was a bit floored by the great acting of Blue is The Warmest Color. Appreciate your honest opinions