Nate’s 2013 Wrap-Up of the Best, Worst, and Blurst of A Year in Film
Welcome back dear readers to another massive, eccentric, and, as always, fashionably late look at the highs and lows in a full 365 days in film. Coming off the heels of 2012, a terrific year in movies, it’s not 2013’s fault that it was something of a step down, even though for the second year in a row I found 30 films I rated at least a B+ or higher. Just when I was thinking it was a down year, I look at the films at the top and believe they could compete with any year’s cream of the crop. More so, the year was a standout when it came to remarkable performances and acting debuts (see Mama and Blue is the Warmest Color), so much so that I think the Oscars acting categories could have been doubled this year. I watched over 115 movies this year.
Before getting under way, I like to re-evaluate my top ten list from last year to rearrange the order, slotting in late releases that I didn’t have the time or ability to see.
2012 Top Ten List 2.0
10) Django Unchained (no change)
9) The Cabin in the Woods (no change)
8) The Impossible (new)
7) Argo (formerly 5)
6) Safety Not Guaranteed (no change)
5) Pirates Band of Misfits (formerly 7)
4) Cloud Atlas (no change)
3) The Grey (no change)
2) Zero Dark Thirty (no change)
1) Silver Linings Playbook (no change)
And now on with the show.
PART ONE: BEST/WORST FILMS OF 2013
If you aren’t familiar with writer/director Jeff Nichols, do yourself a favor and get acquainted and fast, because this guy is headed for indie stardom. Nichols’ last movie, the somber and unbearably tense thriller Take Shelter was my top film of 2011. Mud, in contrast, is a harder sell, something akin to a modern-day Mark Twain fable about romantic outsiders, fugitives, friendship, and boys coming of age. Matthew McConaughey plays the titular character, a wanted man hiding out on a small island along the Mississippi River. He befriends two teens that help him rebuild a boat so that Mud can escape with his lady and evade a team of dangerous bounty hunters seeking vengeance. Nichols is truly gifted at his ability to craft wholly believable characters regardless of circumstance. There is a great sense of setting here, without nary a judgment to the lower class moorings and difficulties, just as Nichols expertly showcased rural Midwestern life and day-to-day anxieties in Take Shelter. His new film is admittedly slow and takes a while to rev up, but the performances are just so good and richly delivered, from top to bottom, that you’re happy to go along with the somewhat slow ride. Nichols also doesn’t soft-pedal the hardships of his characters. While it’s poignant and satisfying how the various plot threads come together for a thrilling conclusion, Mud also has the grace to leave several storylines absent tidy bows. There’s real heartbreak, real disappointment, and recognizable people of all walks trying to do good and find their place in this complicated world.
9) Inside Llewyn Davis
Inside Llewyn Davis is a classic Coen creation, a character study of a misanthropic loser trying to find direction in a comical universe of indifference. This is an easy movie to admire but a harder one to love, unless you’re a fan of the Coen brothers of folk music in general. The protagonist is unlikable, his struggles his own doing either by hubris or integrity, the plot is rather loose with scattered supporting characters, and the film ends on a somewhat lackluster note that feels inconclusive. But then I keep going back to the richness of this world, the pop of the characters, the lyrical beauty to the unvarnished songs, and the concept of folk music as its own sense of purgatory (here me out, folk fans), the idea that we seek something new with something old, and so we follow in circles, like Llewyn’s onscreen journey. Oscar Isaac gives such a strong performance that you almost wish his character could catch a break. Almost. This is another technical marvel from the Coens, filled with their dark humor and their sense of cosmic melancholy, but Inside Llewyn Davis may ultimately find some strange sense of uplift as Llewyn continues to hold to his ambitions even as the world around him is changing, losing sight of artists like him. As long as we have the Coens, the Llewyn Davis’s of this world will get their due in one form or another.
8) Blue Jasmine
Here is a fascinating character study of a life of self-delusion, denial, greed, and guilt, and it is a marvelous film. Allen hasn’t done something this cutting, this precise in several years and it’s a reminder at just how skilled the man can be at building magnetic, fully realized characters, especially women. This is a rich, complex, and juicy character for an actress of the caliber of Cate Blanchett to go wild with. Jasmine is something of a modern-day Blanch DuBois with a sprinkling of Jay Gatsby. Woody Allen has been a hit-or-miss filmmaker for over a decade, and you’ll have that when the man has the perseverance to write and direct a movie every freaking year. I had a pet theory that, as of late, every three years was when we really got a great Allen movie: 2005’s Match Point, 2008’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, 2011’s Midnight in Paris. Well now my theory has been put to rest, thank you very much, all because Allen couldn’t wait one more year to deliver Blue Jasmine, a truly great film. It’s a tragicomedy of entertainment, an exacting character study of a flawed, complex, deeply deluded woman as her carefully calculated world breaks down. Anchored by Blanchett’s supreme performance, the movie glides along with swift acumen, doling out revelations at a steady pace and consistently giving something dishy for the actors and audience to think about. It’s funny, it’s sad, but more than anything Blue Jasmine is compelling as hell. This is one of Allen’s best films and one I’d recommend even to non-fans of the Woodman.
7) The World’s End
The third in the Cornetto trilogy, the series of loving homages to genre films that end up transforming into those films, written by star Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright, is so self-assured, so witty, and so stylish, but it’s also the best film Wright has done. While my heart will always bleed for 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, it’s something of a revelation how everything comes together so magically in The World’s End. Every joke, every sight gag, every offhand reference, it somehow is all tied up together or has some greater narrative connection, like the names of the 12 pubs on a pub crawl reunion that discovers an alien invasion. The dialogue is packed with layered humor. Given the previous films, I knew this would be a funny movie, but I was unprepared for how emotionally adept it is. The characters are given surprising depth and pain and anger, mostly stemming from Pegg’s screw-up alcoholic character desperately trying to relive the good times. The writing is so thought out that the characters come across like actual people, and the twists and turns, while entertaining, are far more emotionally grounded than in any previous Wright movie. There is real pain and atonement for these fallible characters, which makes us root for them even more against the robot invaders. Pegg and Nick Frost are terrific again. The action is frenetic and inventive, the laughs are frequent, and the characters are so fully realized that The World’s End isn’t just the best film in a stellar, pop-culture savvy trilogy, it’s also one of the best movies you’ll see this year.
6) Blue is the Warmest Color
Sensual throughout, beautifully developed, richly observed, and brought to life with bristling and audacious acting, Blue is the Warmest Color is a love story that hits hard with emotional force. And that’s the mass appeal blurb: come for the intensity of the sex, stay for the intensity of the feelings. You will swiftly feel the nervousness and sexual tension that comes from the exploration of attraction. All those high school butterflies come fluttering back. The depth of feeling is easily relatable. The characters are searching for unparalleled human connection but also discovering more about who they are. This is a moving, absorbing, and crushing love story, but it’s just as much about two people falling out of love. By nicely realizing the characters, providing them depth and fallibility, we can empathize with them along the different stops of their romantic journey, seeing where each is coming from and understanding the yearning, frustration, and passion. When things are good, there’s a frisson on screen, a palpable sense of desire. The acting by Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux is as raw and fevered as their onscreen lovemaking. I doubt it needed to be a full three hours long, and I doubt the notorious NC-17-earning sex scenes needed to be as graphic to communicate delight, but I’m most pleased that Blue is offering a full movegoing experience, watching the formation of two characters over time and how they change. Romances this involving, observant, and intense don’t come around too often and deserve to be cherished. Just consider the sex a bonus.
Gravity is one of those movies that you feel like ordinary English adjectives do it a disservice. I can refer to it and visually resplendent, awe-inspiring, and borderline transcendent, but my words will ultimately prove fruitless, because the experience of Gravity is beyond description. This is the reason we go to the movies, to be amazed, to feel something new, and Cuaron has taken the next great leap forward in technical moviemaking while also retaining the artistic soul of an engaging thriller. The signature long takes amaze just as much as the visuals, both of which give you the sensation of what it’s like to be in space, weightless, free-floating, and oh so vulnerable at a moment’s notice. It’s been almost 45 years since Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 showed the visual poetry of zero-gravity acrobatics, and the sheer visual still has plenty of potency left. This is an expertly made thriller, a visually transcendent, cutting-edge trip to space, and a revitalizing time at the movies. It’s as awe-inspiring as it is terrifying. It’s bursting with stimulation for the senses as well as a reawakened sense of spirituality, of something greater to be thankful for. I am in awe of Curaron as a filmmaker and I am in awe of his finished product. It was worth the wait. Now I hope I never have to wait another seven long years again before I see the words “directed by Alfonso Cuaron” again.
Who knew the most affecting love story of 2013 would involve a man and his computer? I’ve watched Her over five times now and I keep thinking back upon it, turning it over in my mind, finding more and more to like about this captivating little movie. It’s a tenderhearted and poignant movie that also manages to have something to say about human connection. And this really is a love story, and an engrossing one at that, despite the fact that it’s man and machine. Her is an insightful, touching, and rewarding movie that hits you on many levels, satisfying all of them. It’s a smart film that explores the various complications of its premise while widening its scope further, it’s heartfelt and humble as it approaches relatable matters of love and loss and feeling adrift, it’s sweetly romantic while at the same time being tethered to reality, finding a perfect balance, and at its core it’s the tale of two people, one human and one mechanical, that find happiness in one another. People will likely pick the movie apart to search for personal messages from Spike Jonze about his own divorce. Maybe that stuff is buried in there, but Jonze has crafted something far more applicable and enjoyable. Her is an openly romantic film that doesn’t shortchange heartache, and it posits that love is love no matter whom it’s directed at. Her is an extraordinary sort of movie and one I plan on revisiting.
3) Before Midnight
Before Midnight is a wonderful movie, brimming with heart as well as ache. It’s also one of the best movies you’ll see this year and another touchstone to the impressive legacy of the series. I really hope that Richard Linklater and his stars continue to bless us with a new film every decade, checking back on the lives of Jessie and Celine. I’m just not ready to say goodbye to these characters yet. Much like the 7 Up documentary series, the movies provide a point to reflect on our own lives, how we’ve changed and grown, the setbacks and triumphs, surprises and sadness. Catching up with the series, I viewed the movies very differently than I did when I first watched them. The glorious aspect of Linklater’s series is that we get to chart that change, checking back with old friends we’ve grown with. The movie’s attention to character and the relatable problems of middle age and long-term relationships is rich, nuanced, and just about everything This is 40 should have been. Before Midnight lacks the idealistic romanticism of previous entries but it substitutes a soulfulness to a series that has always been mature beyond its years. Approaching half a life lived, the characters still have plenty of life in them, plenty of dreams worth pursuing, and plenty more hurdles to go. It has been an ongoing privilege to get to spend time with these two. I pray this is not the end but just another stop on what ends up being one of cinema’s definitive statements on love through the ages.
2) Short Term 12
There are movies that feel true in a broad sense but clumsy with the fine details, and vice versa, but Short Term 12 is that rare movie that feels so authentic that it could have been a documentary. Sure there is convenient plot developments and a tidiness that life just doesn’t want to provide, but the overall impression is remarkably genuine. The character feel like actual people, their world feels recognizable, and their struggles feels familiar and relatable and raw. Short Term 12 doesn’t glorify the counselors, nor does it demonize or sanctify the kids under their care. Here is an unblinking look at the sheer weight of the work of trying to provide for those in need. The movie is a potent drama with several heartbreaking incidents, but I don’t want to scare people off with the impression that Short Term 12 is all artsy doom and gloom. On the contrary, the film is resolutely hopeful in the face of such dire adversity. The perseverance of the counselors, as well as the kids striving for independent lives, is what I walk away with. Not the abuse, not the systematic neglect, but the indomitable perseverance of the human spirit to transcend damage and to succeed anew. This is the long-lasting impact of this superb movie. It’s not about the pain inflicted, rather than human connections forged and the optimism of recovery. Not everything will get its happy ending, but it is inspiring to watch people put it all on the line, thanklessly. Short Term 12 is the kind of movie you bug your friends until they finally watch it. Ladies and gents, commence bugging.
And the best film of 2013 is…..
1) The Wolf of Wall Street
There is no Scorsese like the source. It’s brash, exhilarating, uproarious, mesmerizing, and just about every other adjective you can fetch from a dictionary. This is first-class filmmaking from a master, and consider Wolf of Wall Street the white-collar companion piece to Scorsese’s gangster masterpiece, Goodfellas. This is vintage Scorsese. This is brilliant filmmaking, a bold movie that practically sings, it flies by with exhilarating force and acumen, daring you to keep watching. This is the fastest three hours you’ll ever experience in your life. There’s some fat, yes, but man does this picture just move along like a freight train. The screenplay is impeccably drawn. The movie just courses with energy and watching it is often an exhilarating rush, communicating the highs the characters are undergoing.The fact that 71-year-old Scorsese could make a movie this highly energetic, this debased, this brash, this borderline indecent, and this awesomely entertaining is encouraging. It’s even more hilarious to me that older Academy members at a recent screening of the film accosted Scorsese, essentially being termed a “debauched scoundrel.” That’s got to count as some badge of honor. Yes, at three hours the movie can get long but it’s never dull or taxing. The propulsive narrative, the hilarious humor, the shrewd characterization, the wanton excess, the filmmaking bravado that hums, it all coalesces into a disturbing and disturbingly enjoyable condemnation of greed and our inherent celebration of this lifestyle. There is not one aspect of this movie that falls flat. The Wolf of Wall Street is an invigorating piece of cinema. The choice of music, the swinging cinematography, the wide ensemble of actors, the feverish editing, it all comes beautifully together to form a whole that surpasses everything else in cinema this year.
Honorable mention: The Spectacular Now, Fruitvale Station, Frances Ha, The Act of Killing
10) The Counselor
The Counselor is such an unforgivably boring slog, languid and rudderless when it should be thrilling and complex. The characters are nonexistent, the plotting is muddled and confusing, the dialogue often laborious and roundabout, and the overall film is too meandering to properly engage an audience. Even talented people can produce bad movies, and here is further proof. With this cast, with this crew, there is no excuse for The Counselor to be overwhelmingly stilted and tedious. For a film about drug deals gone badly, murder, and Cameron Diaz masturbating on a windshield, The Counselor is deathly boring. I grew restless before the halfway mark and just kept hoping beyond all evidence that the film was going to find some direction and pick up the intrigue. It did not. I cannot fathom what attracted the talent to this film beyond the cache of working on “Cormac McCarthy’s first screenplay.” If the results of The Counselor are any indication, I don’t know if we’ll be seeing too many McCarthy screenplays in the future, or at least McCarthy scripts that haven’t been vetted by other writers who better understand the contours of the medium. His florid arias and abstract, directionless plotting can be forgiven on the page, but no on the screen. What we’re left with is a tepid movie about bad people meeting bad ends, with little entry for an audience to care or even find entertainment. The art direction is given more care than the characters. In the weeks leading up to its release, The Counselor adopted a tagline from a quote by Laura: “Have you been bad?” It was turned into the Twitter hashtag promoting the film. Well, Counselor, you’ve been very bad.
9) The Canyons
The Canyons is a movie that does a disservice to the word bland. This movie is powerfully bland. There’s just nothing to attach to other than the fascination of Lindsay Lohan. Those seeking an outrageous exploitation film filled with soapy sex and intrigue, as well as pretty people behaving very badly, will be surely disappointed with The Canyons. I guess it all depends on your expectation level for a film that bypassed the traditional financial system and crowd-sourced on the basis of Paul Schrader and Bret Easton Ellis’ notoriety. I’m glad that both artists found a conduit for collaboration and found a way to make it happen on the (relative) cheap. I just don’t know why it had to be this crummy story. Thematically, Schrader and Ellis seem to be completely at odds, which results in a super serious movie about terrible, and terribly boring, characters doing little else but indulging in vices and whining (also a vice?). Without the presence of Lohan to add a curiosity factor, there is honestly no good reason to spend good money on this dithering project. The moderate success of The Canyons is somewhat comforting, but really, this wasn’t a movie that deserved people’s donations, and it certainly doesn’t deserve your time. The New York Times released a lengthy blow-by-blow in January of the tumultuous film shoot, mostly centered around Lohan and her antics. It was a fascinating read. The Canyons is a better behind-the-scenes news article than a competent sexy thriller. The best actor in the film is a prominent male porn star.
8) Violet & Daisy
Violet & Daisy is a curious exercise in twee indie hipness, suffused with quirk standing in place for characters, story, meaning, etc. It feels like the development stopped once the core concept of teen girl assassins was concocted. The depiction of Violet and Daisy as petite killers never approaches anything meaningful. They are killers because it’s cool. They talk like lobotomized film noir archetypes because it’s cool. This is quirk run amok, quirk with a gun and no purpose. I’m trying hard to ignore the obvious sexual kink undercurrents of the whole enterprise. The off-putting childish nature of the adult girls, juxtaposed with the baby doll sexuality of the film, makes for an uncomfortable watch. To call the film bad taste is too easy. Whether this is a bizarre dark comedy, a whacko modern fairy tale, or whatever term you want to apply to justify the artificial excesses and emptiness, Violet & Daisy is a contrived mess that labors to fill out a basic feature running time, often doubling back and delaying. There isn’t a story here, more just an incongruent, irregular style. Everything about this film feels painfully and artificial. If you’re content with a knockoff of a Tarantino knockoff, with an extra dose of whimsy, then enjoy Violet & Daisy and you can dance your cares away atop bleeding bodies.
7) The Starving Games
I feel like lambasting the duo of Friedberg and Seltzer has gotten to the point of beating a dead horse. I’ve been railing against their misbegotten sense of comedy (really just pointless and soon-to-be-dated pop-culture references) for years, declaring three of their terrible spoof movies as my worst film of that year. There is no love lost between me and these two men, and yet I feel the sense to restrain my ire when it comes to their latest, The Starving Games. It’s another witless comedy caper, this time using the popular Hunger Games series as its skeleton to hang its desperate jokes upon. These guys don’t know what parody is, don’t know the particulars of comedy and how to build and payoff a joke. It’s the same pattern of ineptitude that will never change. Yet while sitting through all 80 laborious minutes of Starving Games, I felt like Friedberg and Seltzer have come to the realization that the end is nigh for their spoof careers.
A major problem for the movie being stuck in neutral is that Courtney Solomon, the man who previously helmed notorious stinkers like Dungeons and Dragons and An American Haunting, directed it. The action sequences are so badly edited together that often it’s a collage of fast-paced imagery without feeling the impact. The scenes that aren’t car chases end up becoming respites, something to strangely look forward to, and judging by the atrocious dialogue, this is not a positive. If you’re a car chase junkie, I think taking a shot with Getaway could be the trick to sober you up. It’s one long 90-minute car chase but made so ineptly, at every angle of filmmaking, that it gets so monotonous and boring far too early. When you don’t have characters to keep your interest, a plot that makes sense, action sequences that offer some variety, editing that makes the action coherent, and direction that hamstrings the viewer to lousy dashboard-esque cameras, then it’s easy to fall asleep to the sounds of near-constant vehicle crunching. Getaway is a terrible action movie, a terrible movie in general, and proof positive that action fans should be careful what they wish for.
5) The Host
It’s impossible for me to ever separate The Host, a sci-fi would-be romance based upon the best seller by dubious author Stephenie Meyer, and the demise of famous film critic, and personal influence, Roger Ebert. On April 4, 2013, America’s most prominent film critic died after his cancer had returned. Upon hearing the news, I was overcome with grief and shed a few tears for the loss of a great writer and a great man who influenced a generation of online film critics like myself. Then I saw what was Ebert’s last published film review — The Host. The man deserved better and so does anyone else who watches The Host, a movie I saw the very day of Ebert’s death. The Host is another of Meyer’s poorly plotted, insipid melodrama that manages to be all about teen hormones except those hormones feels so hermetically sealed off. It’s another neutered romance, and this was supposed to be her so-called “adult book”? It’s the same themes and tropes from her non-adult Twilight series, just with a coating of sci-fi rather than supernatural. The concept of an alien species stripping human beings of free will and living not just amongst us but within us, that’s a solid idea that could make for a compelling story. Meyer found the dumbest story to tell, her bread and butter, a love triangle where both guys have struck her at some point in the film. It pains me that The Host may have been Roger Ebert’s last movie. As far as I’m concerned, this movie murdered Ebert.
4) The Hangover Part III
I was no huge fan of the first Hangover movie and I cited its 2011 sequel, a carbon copy of the original, as one of the worst films of the year. The supposed final chapter ditches the blackout formula, which on its face seems like a step in the right direction, but now we have a Hangover movie with no titular hangover and at heart this is a movie for no one, even hardcore Hangover fans. I became quite cognizant how little I was laughing, not just because the jokes were badly misfiring, which they were, but also because there were so few jokes. You’d be hard-pressed to label this a comedy. It’s really more of an action thriller. What humor does arise is usually mean-spirited, curdled, or just off-putting, particular the reoccurring theme of animal cruelty (maybe opening your film with a decapitated giraffe is not the best idea). The other major hurdle is that annoying supporting characters played by Ken Jeong and Zach Galifianakis are elevated to co-leads. Both of these characters are best when reacting to others rather than being the main actors in the story. This movie is so abysmal as a comedy that you start to think director Todd Phillips should try his hand at a straight action thriller; the guy has a strong eye for visual composition. The actors all look extremely bored. Could Justin Bartha, the character who always gets sidelined, just get murdered and they have to hide his body? Oh no, I think I just came up with The Hangover 4. I apologize already.
3) After Earth
Rare is the movie that just seems to fail at every level of filmmaking, from writing to direction to pacing to casting to production design to logic to, well, you name it (perhaps the craft services were the exception to the rule). Director M. Night Shyamalan’s After Earth is one of those exceptional, big-budget passion project failures that just mystify on every account, making you scratch your head and wonder who could possibly be passionate about something this utterly terrible? I’ve got a great idea, let’s take one of the world’s most charismatic actors and then turn him into a stone-faced hardass, terse with words of encouragement, and mostly sidelined so that his son can go on his stupid hero’s journey. If you value your entertainment, please ignore After Earth. It doesn’t even work from a derisive enjoyment angle. The movie is lethargic and unimaginative to its core. It’s predictable at every turn and underwhelming throughout. The plot consists of the most boring father-son team in recent memory and a hero’s journey that feels false at every step. This big-budget star vehicle doesn’t work when its star doesn’t have the intangibles to be a star, nor does it help when the story is so poorly developed. The science feels boneheaded, the characters are dreary, the pacing sluggish, the spectacle clipped, and the world building to be bland. The shame is that this premise, even this exact same premise on a future Earth, could have easily worked as a suspense thriller. Smith seemed more interested in building an After Earth enterprise, since companion books were commissioned, and extending the reach of the Smith family empire. Making a good movie, it seems, was secondary. Being fearless also has its disadvantages.
2) Tyler Perry’s Temptation
Temptation is a detestable film because of how ugly it treats women and its myopic, pigheaded, and often outdated views on relationships. The ostensible message from Perry’s film/sermon is so odious that it caused me great discomfort and made me question Perry’s reputation as a female-friendly writer. This is designed to be a cautionary tale about the power of lust leading good women astray, and it appears that it’s only women in this world, but moving on. It’s designed to impart lessons to the audience, but the only lesson I kept partaking, again and again, was that, ladies, it’s all your fault. It’s like the movie was created in a different era, one where women were expected to know their place. In the realm of Tyler Perry’s Temptation, if you go away from Jesus, you will get raped and you will get AIDS and you will have no one else to blame but yourself, ladies. This tone-deaf sermon is full of bad messages, bad writing, bad acting, and naive answers to complex human problems. The only real temptation you should feel while watching this movie is to eject it and break the DVD in half.
And the worst film of 2013 is….
1) InAPPropriate Comedy
I’m not saying that ALL people who find some measurable level of enjoyment from InAPPropriate Comedy are racist, homophobic, and sexist, but chances are, if you are all three things, you’ll probably enjoy the comedic abyss that is InAPPropriate Comedy. I am by no means a comedy prude. I love a terrific vulgar joke as much as the next guy. I think when comedy is concerned that nothing is off limits. You can make anything, no matter how horrific and offensive, funny under the right circumstances, but it takes work and able skill. The problem with Vince Offer’s movie is that there is no consideration to context, setup, developments, let alone surprise. This is just rampant and pointless vulgarity without any parameters, no point of view, nothing to mask the fact that it’s just cheap shock value. What are the jokes here? Asians are bad drivers? Black men are reckless? Women are superficial? Do these sound like jokes or merely groundless insults? If you removed all the ostensibly offensive elements, there would be nothing to this movie whatsoever. After watching InAPPropriate Comedy, I may have second thoughts about the intensity of my screeds against Friedberg and Seltzer. Their movies are still terrible, still the cannibalistic, cinematic watery discharge I dubbed them, but Offer’s comedy may even be worse. There’s no way any of InAPPropriate Comedy could ever be funny. It’s so obvious and desperate that it confuses offense for smashing taboos. This is a black hole of funny, where funny cannot escape and instead gets smashed down to an atomic level. If I see a worse movie in 2013 than InAPPropriate Comedy, it will make me reevaluate the existence of a loving God.
Dishonorable mention: Movie 43, A Good Day to Die Hard, Safe Haven, Escape From Tomorrow
PART TWO: INDIVIDUAL AWARDS AND HONORS
Best titles of the year: John Dies at the End, The Place Beyond the Pines, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, The Kings of Summer, American Hustle
Worst titles of the year: Movie 43, The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia, Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, Jayne Mansfield’s Car
Titles that could be confused with porn: Touchy Feely, Warm Bodies, 21 & Over, Fists of Legend, Fukrey, Pacific Rim, Girl Most Likely, Inside Llewyn Davis
Best Die Hard in a White House Movie in 2013: White House Down
The Best 10 Minutes of 2013: Without question, the outrageously comical instant-classic Lemmon sequence in The Wolf of Wall Street. It is a sequence of pure movie bliss, brilliantly edited and staged, as Leonardo DiCaprio is placed in a precarious position when the drugs kick in, and his comic floundering along with Jonah Hill is riotous.
Runners-up: the end of Captain Phillips; any ten minutes of Gravity and Pacific Rim’s end; the hotel room fight in Before Midnight.
Best Film I Saw in 2013 (that wasn’t released in 2013): The Impossible
Biggest Disappointment: Elysium. Coming off District 9, it looked like director Neil Blomkamp was going to be one of those rare artists who could wrestle a high-concept sci-fi action movie of his own that satiates the brain and the senses. The trailers looked great, and then we all saw the movie and came up with excuses, but really, there’s no other word to describe the experience but disappointment. It feels like they took the freshness of District 9 and applied it to a more tired-and-true blockbuster formula. Blomkamp drops us into an intriguing world but I wanted more of just about everything. Killer hobo space presidents. Sigh. And the stupid exoskeleton suit did nothing!
Biggest Tease: The Place Beyond the Pines and its final act. We jump ahead into the future and watch the dramatic irony unfold as the children of Avery and Luke interact, waiting for them to learn their paternal connection. I believe the film was attempting to tell a meditative, searching drama about children paying for the sins of their fathers, the lingering fallout of bad decisions and moral compromises. Except that’s not this film. By the end of the movie, while some secrets have been laid bare, there really aren’t any significant consequences. The film does an excellent job of maintaining a sense of dread, but it doesn’t come to anything larger or thought provoking. The entire structure of this film is geared toward a tragic accumulation, but it just doesn’t materialize.
Couldn’t Hate It Award: I went into Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas expecting terrible and was treated to mostly just bad. And this may be the mot tolerable Larry the Cable Guy has ever been onscreen. That’s a victory. Merry Christmas everyone! Also, special consideration for Disney’s The Lone Ranger, a film I had fun with that everyone else on the planet seems to think was a sign of the apocalypse.
Bad Casting Awards: Mila Kunis as the Wicked Witch of the West in Oz the Great and Powerful (“CUUUUUUUUURSE YOOOOOOOOU!”); Emma Stone as he femme fatale in Gangster Squad; John Cusack as Richard Nixon in Lee Dainels’ The Butler; Selena Gomez as a “car jacking punk” in Getaway.
Best Time I Had in a Theater in 2013: I’m tempted to say Wolf of Wall Street just for watching an entire row of elderly ladies shuffle out after fort-five minutes, but this award deserves to go to Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, the greatest film experience of 2013.
Why We Still Need Films Like 12 Years a Slave: This is a slice of history that cannot be forgotten, but just as sinister is the amelioration of its cruelty. As time passes, and those with direct personal experience are long gone, then the mitigation begins, and you have ignorance consuming people who want to whitewash America’s original sin, like the above movie patron. I’ve even read, simply on message boards for this very film, a dubious prospect I admit, people arguing, “Can’t we just move on already?” and posing false equivalences like, “Well the poor Southerners who worked as indentured servants had it just as bad.” I swear I am not deliberately setting up a straw man argument, these are actual gripes people have. It’s as if acknowledging the totality of the horror of slavery is, in itself, some kind of insult to people today. It’s history and vital history that need not ever be forgotten or mitigated, and we need more films dealing with this subject. Also, this conversation happened with a friend of mine:
Customer: “Yeah, I don’t think I’ll end up seeing 12 Years.”
Friend: “Oh. Well it is a hard movie to watch.”
Customer: “It’s not that. I’m just waiting for a movie that finally shows all the good slave owners doing nice things. It wasn’t all bad.”
Super Bad Superman: The concluding brawl in Man of Steel is like 9/11 times eight. I counted three different skyscrapers that came tumbling down, and this is after the Krypton gravity field has ripped up the city and smashed it to dust, as well as missiles exploding around the city and Zod’s various spaceships. Then there’s the fight where Zod and Superman are blasting through just about every high-rise office building, and even when they collide outside it creates such force that buildings crater. They even fly into space, destroy a satellite, which then comes down as fiery debris that rains down on poor Metropolis. The final plan to foil the bad guys involves, get this, opening a black hole above a major city. It’s not like that sounds as if it will have catastrophic blowback.
Most Gratuitous Moment of 2013: Rosario Dawson’s unexpected full-frontal nude scene in Danny Boyle’s twisty thriller Trance. As a red-blooded heterosexual male, far be it from me to scoff at female nudity in a film, let alone from Rosario Dawson. What made this situation all the more bizarre is that the movie actually tried to turn it into a plot point. Dawson walks into a bathroom, closes the door, and then we hear a certain buzzing. Then she comes out and presents herself to James McAvoy, completely sans any body hair. Um, sure, but then to try and tie this into an art history conversation about pubic hair in paintings representing the imperfection/finite aspects of mankind? Yeah, just say you wanted Dawson naked and be done with it
Runner-up: Cameron Diaz + car windshield = awkward/new career low, The Counselor.
Bios That Deserved Better: 42 with Jackie Robinson, Nelson Mandela with Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Max Schmeling in… Max Schmeling.
Speak Up: Once again Ryan Gosling plays men of few words, so few that I counted he only says eight in Only God Forgives by the 28-minute mark (at this pace, he’ll dissolve into the background by 2015).
Most Ridiculous Plot Element of 2013: The crazy ending to Safe Haven. The final twist comes out of nowhere, bringing in a supernatural factor that left me gob smacked. All I kept repeating was, “What?” It’s such a contrived, immediately stupid twist ending, trying to bridge a simple romance with something like The Sixth Sense. I can’t say whether the twist existed in Nicholas Sparks’ source material, but wherever it originated, I can predict you won’t find a dumber twist ending to a film all year. Safe Haven is two parts of a good-looking albeit mediocre movie with a final dash of half-baked lunacy. All right, I’ll spoil it: the neighborly friend was the ghost of the dead wife all along!
Runner’s up: Jodie Foster’s unknowable accent in Elysium; the metal rods of doom in space, G.I. Joe: Retaliation; KHAAAAAAAN, in Star Trek Into Darkness.
Better Performances than a Movie: Dallas Buyers Club, 12 Years a Slave, The Iceman, Lee Daniels’ The Butler
They Don’t Make Trains Like They Used To: In The Wolverine, there is a fight scene between Wolverine and a standard Yakuza thug atop the speeding bullet train zipping by at 300 miles per hour. It’s actually the most memorable action piece in the film, but it’s also memorable for wrong reasons. Wolverine is using his claws to pin himself to the top. The Yakuza thug is using a standard knife. Are the tops of the bullet train this easily penetrable? I’d worry, Japanese commuters. Then they hop over signs and ledges, still landing atop the train. This isn’t a Western with a locomotive that one could feasibly keep their footing atop. This is a train going 300 miles per hour. You think you can jump onto something going that speed and keep your balance? Think you can hold onto something while you speed at 300 miles per hour?
Titular Spoilers: Lone Survivor
And There Was the Line: The “sick stick” in Kick-Ass 2. It’s hard to say where exactly the line of good taste should be drawn with a violent satire on super heroes, but I think I found it. A character uses a tazer that hits its victims with an exact frequency that they, simultaneously start vomiting and crapping. Seeing two streams of sick shooting out of both ends of a teen girl, well, it made me want to go pray for my soul.
Least Effective Person for Delivering Exposition: The RZA, in G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Just don’t. Ever again.
Thora Birch Award for Hottest Actress in 2013: Scarlet Johansson. This is something of an ironic note for this honor considering Scarlet co-starred with Thora in 2001’s Ghost World, and then their careers took two very different paths. But I come here to praise Scarlet, not to bury Thora. In 2013, Scarlet had two movies that showcased in different ways just how sexy this woman can be. In Don Jon, she was the sultry temptress making full use of her assets to manipulate her man, and in Her, her voice was the star, making us fall in love with her all over again. Here’s to all of you, Scarlet, which we’ll be seeing even more of in 2014. Repeat winner perhaps?
Runner’s-up: Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle; Adele Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Color; Margot Robbie in The Wolf of Wall Street.
Best Onscreen Death: Blender of Doom in You’re Next. There were some nifty deaths in this fun, above-average home invasion thriller, thanks in part to the filmmakers’ wicked sense of humor. In the end, our heroine is about to mince some bloody justice on her tormentor. She slams a blender onto his head, and I have never in my life compelled an onscreen character as hard as I had to plug in this household appliance of death.
Hooray, Drunk Pilots: In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Walter is in Greenland and needs to get to a fishing vessel. The man next to him is a helicopter pilot. Great. But he’s also drunk, so Walter understandably refuses to fly with the man. This seems like a very rationale decision, but then he fantasizes Kristen Wiig coming through, urging him on through song (through song!), and the soundtrack starts pumping, and Walter runs out and literally jumps inside the ascending helicopter. It’s meant to be portrayed as a triumphant moment of embracing the uncertainty of life’s adventure, but in reality the movie just pressured its title character into getting into a flying vehicle with a drunk.
Best Villain: Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) in 12 Years a Slave. Given the subject matter, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of bad people to choose from, but Fassbender’s sadistic and weak slave owner is by far the vilest. He uses Scripture to justify his actions, which include murder and rape, and he does so with conviction.
Runner’s-up: Abigail the doll in The Conjuring; Smaug in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug; Butch Cavendish in The Lone Ranger; Steve Carrell in The Way Way Back.
Favorite Line From a Review in 2013: “It’s undeniable how well Pacific Rim taps into your inner ten-year-old, the kid who crashed his toys together imagining larger-than-life battles. Truthfully, if I were ten years old, I’d likely declare Pacific Rim the greatest movie of all time, that is, until I saw one with boobs in it.”
PART THREE: MOVIE GRADES
I have reviews and mini-reviews for almost all of the graded movies, and I invite readers to check them out at PictureShowPundits.com for further details.A — Before Midnight Blue Jasmine Blue is the Warmest Color Gravity Her Short Term 12 The Wolf of Wall Street The World’s End A- — The Act of Killing American Hustle Blackfish Captain Phillips Frances Ha Frozen Fruitvale Station The Great Beauty Inside Llewyn Davis John Dies at the End Mud The Spectacular Now Star Trek Into Darkness B+ — Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues The Conjuring The Croods Ender’s Game Enough Said It’s a Disaster Pacific Rim Philomena 12 Years a Slave The Way Way Back What Maise Knew White House Down You’re Next B — August: Osage County The Call Catching Fire Dallas Buyers Club Don Jon Fast and Furious 6 The Great Gatsby The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug In a World… The Incredible Burt Wonderstone Iron Man 3 The Lone Ranger Lone Survivor Mama Oblivion Olympus Has Fallen Prisoners Side Effects Starlet This is the End Thor: The Dark World V/H/S 2 Warm Bodies B- — 42 About Time All is Lost The Kings of Summer Monster’s University Much Ado About Nothing Now You See Me The Place Beyond the Pines The Purge Saving Mr. Banks The Wolverine World War Z C+ — Assault on Wall Street Bad Grandpa Black Rock Byzantium Elysium Evil Dead The Family The Heat The Iceman Kick-Ass 2 Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom Man of Steel Out of the Furnace Pain & Gain R.E.D. 2 Thanks for Sharing Trance We’re the Millers C — Aftershock Gangster Squad G.I. Joe: Retaliation Emperor Lee Daniels’ The Butler Only God Forgives Oz the Great and Powerful Paradise The Secret Life of Walter Mitty C- — A Madea Christmas The Counselor A Good Day to Die Hard Escape From Tomorrow Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters Movie 43 Max Schmeling Safe Haven Spring Breakers D+ — The Canyons Violet & Daisy D — After Earth The Getaway The Hangover Part III The Host The Starving Games D- — Temptation F — InAPPropriate Comedy