Friday, December 27, 2013

Top 10 films of 2013


2013 was a really good year in film. In fact, despite my being behind on movies this year, it was still hard to get this list down to just 10 out of the ones I had seen. Okay, sure... I'll concede that 10 is a completely arbitrary number, but that's where we are starting from, so let's just roll with it.


Okay, so... What follows is a list of my Top 10 favorite films of the year. They might not be the best films, by whatever qualification you may want to apply, but that's not what I'm claiming here. These are my favorites. The films I enjoyed. The films I felt were well made. The films I will see again.

Most of all, they are the films I just might purchase.

My Favorites.

Also, while I usually do a Worst of List (see previous years here, here, here, and here), I won't be making one this year. Not because my taste got any better or that there was less crap out there this year or anything like that... I mean, I saw some ungodly shitty films, some just hands down fucking awful ones. Rest assured, if I were to make an absolute Worst Films of 2013 list, Man of Steel and Star Trek Into Darkness would easily--EASILY!--take the top two spots. What a pair of terrible god damn films... So no, I won't be making a Worst of List, because I just didn't see many of the type of films I usually like to include, the big budget films, the ones with no excuse for being as bad as they are, the ones with all the money, talent, and connections of Hollywood available to them. Why is this, you ask? Well, you might remember me mentioning that Filmzilla closed earlier this year. With that went my supply of really shitty films that I could see for free. Without that what am I supposed to do? What, do you really think I'd pay to see The Lone Ranger? Fuck off. So yeah, that's what that's about, just so you know, in case you were wondering.

And just for the record: I'm really glad Ender's Game bombed.

My list follows. There's probably spoilers all over the place, but I don't care. As always, feel free to chime in with your thoughts below, if you feel moved.

Top 10 favorite films of 2013:

10. This is the End

In a nutshell, This is the End is a movie about James Franco, Seth Rogan, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, and Jay Baruchel trying to survive a Biblical Apocalypse. They're not playing characters; they're playing themselves. And not surprisingly maybe, I did not expect to enjoy it. Not in the least. Or even see it, honestly. I mean, I like these guys as actors, but you can see a Project like this coming from miles away and at that distance, it really looked like nothing more than a self-indulgent jerk-off of a film, nothing but a scam by a bunch of pampered celebrity douches to get the studios to pay for them all to hang out together. But... like 21 Jump Street, I was totally wrong. This is the End is ridiculously funny. Profane. Raunchy. The term "In poor taste" might come to mind at times, but it was still hilarious. Okay, okay, sure... It may not be for everyone, but I laughed all the way through. It's memorable. And quotable, too. Okay, maybe not Supertroopers/Army of Darkness quotable, but still, among my friends, all you have to say is: "Channing Tate-yum!" and people will start laughing.

9. Thor: The Dark World

I've never been a big Thor fan. In fact, until fairly recently, I had never even really read the comic. I knew the character, sure, but the whole faux-Shakespearean thing that most creators have leaned a little too heavily on in the past puts me off. And while I like the idea of a race of Cosmic-Space-Gods, the mythology tended to skew too far into the loosey-goosey and the wobbly for me. I like fun, but I'm not a fan of wacky and Thor could sometimes get wacky. But, being a Marvel-head, there was no way I wasn't going to the film. In the end, I liked it, but I only kind of liked it. It was okay. But it's probably my least favorite Marvel film. Of course, I really enjoyed Thor in Avengers, but y'know... feel free to take that with a grin of salt. All of this basically means, I was interested and intrigued by what I was seeing in the trailers for Thor 2, but I wasn't really giddy, understand? My point is: when I went, I went in somewhat reasonably, I think. "Entertain me, please." And that's what Thor 2 did. It entertained the hell out of me. The movie is a flat-out romp. It's not grim or dark or plodding, it is the tonal opposite of Man of Steel. It's fun and funny with some great set-pieces and pretty cool designs. The characters are well done. The mythology is more established. Best of all, it's sincere. All in all, this is a fun film. Watch it. It's a good time.

8. Iron Man 3

Ah, yes... Now here is a great superhero film. I'll just say it. I loved Iron Man 3. Loved it. I'm a big Shane Black fan--you've seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, right, you should--so when he was attached to Direct, I was very excited. In a nutshell, I pretty much liked everything they did in this film. I was happy to see them build off the events in the Avengers, but not chain themselves to it. I really liked the way they wrapped up the character arc of Tony Stark. I love that they saved Dummy. Plus, how great did the new armor look with the yellow and red reversed? All in all, this was the perfect cap to an already excellent summer movie trilogy (Yes, it's true, I don't have a problem with Iron Man 2, or at least, not enough of one to dwell on). And why we're on the topic of issues, I really do not have one with the way the character of the Mandarin was handled. In fact, I find the reasons people use, the ones who do claim to have a problem with it, to be stupid and hollow. I thought it was a brilliant move, especially in the face of the fact that the Mandarin has always been a ridiculously poor villain just in general (what's your favorite Mandarin story line, whiner?), not to mention a completely stale and an out-of-date racist caricature. So, yeah. Brilliant. As far as I'm concerned, that was just a cherry sitting on top of what was already a hell of a good time. Of course, it does leave me with one Nerd Question: If the ten rings in the Ten Rings Organization does not refer to the Mandarin's ten rings... then what does it refer to?

7. Side Effects

I'm a big fan of Steven Soderbergh, but perhaps strangely, not one of all of his films. I enjoy them. They're definitely gorgeous, but often times I find them a bit unsatisfying... or at least, I think I do, because despite this, I am always in line for the next one. Maybe it's because when I do connect to one of his films, I really connect. Side Effects is one of those films. I avoided this one for awhile. And when I finally got around to it, I went in expecting a film about Pharmacology and Psychiatric drugs and Chemical dependency and maybe something on the Mentally Unstable, and most likely, lots and lots of screeching and screaming and general crazy person unreasonable behavior, which is a total trigger for me. I really don't enjoy watching that kind of subject matter. Honestly, I'm kind of shocked I subjected myself to the possible experience. But I did, and while I did kind of get all of the stuff that I listed above, I also got a twisting and turning Hitchcockian thriller full of lies and set-ups and double-crosses. Just fantastic. What I got was a ton of stuff I did not see coming and I loved the whole thing. Ewan MacGreggor is great, as always, and Rooney Mara just gets better and better. Plus, I'll just admit it: I'm a Channing Tatum fan. I mean... Channing Tate-yum...

6. Gravity

I've gone on and on about this film, talking about my love of Alfonso Cuaron and astronauts and the space program, the movie Children of Men, and how my "almost as big as my fear of sharks" fear of being adrift and far from land somewhat naturally translates to space. On and on, as I am wont to do now and then. What can I say? I was very excited. And Gravity paid off in spades. Were there some on-the-nose visual metaphors? Sure. Were there some technical inaccuracies? Apparently, but I wouldn't have noticed them without the help of Dr. Tyson, and even though I know about them now, I still don't care. That doesn't detract at all, because this was a good movie. It's spare. It's bare bones, but it's a classic story, a man vs nature tale, short and sweet and focused, nothing but survival. It's Jack London's To Build a Fire... but in space. Now, for some (The ADHD crowd...), this is not going to be enough. Sucks to be them. For me, Gravity was a white knuckle adventure with barely any room to breathe and I was fully invested in from beginning to end. Loved the movie. Loved Sandra. I'm all about it. Loved it.

5. The Spectacular Now

I did not like 500 Days of Summer, the previous script by Scott Neustadter. Besides the kind of overly-cute "hipster-y-ness" of everything, all the "normal" stuff just felt too untethered from reality for me, which is strange, because the parts I did like, like the dance scene and when he looks in the mirror and sees Han Solo looking back, were complete un-reality. I don't know, I'm not a big fan. So--in what is apparently the emerging theme of this year's list--I wasn't expecting too much from The Spectacular Now. The story is just your basic slice-of-life, a pair of kids are on the cusp of graduating High School and are about to step out into the wide, wild world. It's a Coming of Age tale, as the kids call it. Yes, it's charming and funny and touching and sad and all very well done, no complaints there, but on a certain level, we've all seen it before. But what really sells the film are the two leads: Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley. They're both very good and their chemistry is natural and familiar. You know them. You've been them. They're a treat to watch together. Plus, despite its familiarity, or maybe because of it, The Spectacular Now is just a great film. I really enjoyed it.

4. Frances Ha

Noah Baumbach. Honestly, most of his stuff kind of bores me. For the most part, I think it can all be summed up as: the general malaise of white people. Other than that, I love Kicking and Screaming and I fucking hate Greenberg. HATE! If you ask me, if you ever need an example of everything bad in the loosely-termed "Art Cinema" genre, Greenberg is it. It's awful. Just terrible. Ben Stiller is a son of a bitch and he should have been sentenced to hard time for that film. So bad. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that may have been the last of Baumbach's films that I'd seen, so as a result, when I saw the trailers for Frances Ha--a film released in black and white with a synopsis that reads: "A story that follows a New York woman (who doesn't really have an apartment), apprentices for a dance company (though she's not really a dancer), and throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as their possible reality dwindles." It is fair to say that I was dubious, but that would also be a huge understatement. Maybe it was more like: "I'm not even going to bother." But then I did... I'm not sure why. And it's fantastic. Co-written by Baumbach and star Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha is about finding your place in the world and all of the missteps and wrong starts along the way. Is it still kind of about the general malaise of white people? Yes, but it's also a film that stuck with me, one I've found myself thinking about, something I definitely didn't expect, so I'm a fan. Like I said: the emerging theme of this list.

3. Upstream Color

I've been waiting almost a decade for the next Shane Carruth film. Primer was released in 2004, a mirco-budgeted, very smart, very clever, twisting and knotting Independent Sci-fi Time Travel film. It was a film that left a mark, heralding an interesting new filmmaker. The type of person you both want to be given some crazy-budgeted big summer blockbuster, but dread the idea of him being torn away from his own super cool, super interesting projects. I'm very much a fan. I don't know what took him so long to put out his second film, whether it was fear, pressure, or a need for obsessive planning (my bet is a whole heaping helping of that last one, if not all three), but I certainly hope it doesn't take him as long to put out his third. Upstream Color is a hard film to summarize. It's sci-fi. It's contemplative. It's interesting and it's weird. Here's a synopsis: "Upstream Color is about two people whose lives and behaviors are affected by a complex parasite—without knowing it—that has a three-stage life cycle in which it passes from humans to pigs to orchids." Yes, that is fair to say. There is some of that going on. Here's another synopsis: "A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives." Hmmm... yes, there is definitely some of that too. There's also some stuff concerning Water. And Pigs, of course. Pigs. Parasites. Powers. (Alliteration!) Plus: Weird relationships. I loved it. It's another one that sticks with me. I think I'll probably end up buying it and watch it and re-watch it and love it, but always feel like I never quite get it. Great film.

2. Short Term 12

I had no idea Short Term 12 was even a film until after it had been released. I hadn't heard anything about it coming down the pipe. I hadn't seen any trailers. No TV spots. No posters. Nothing. Then suddenly I read a couple of reviews and the reactions were so positive, that I knew I had to go check it out. This will happen sometimes, it's what happened with Children of Men, sometimes films drop out of the sky for me. So, when I went to see it, I didn't have any expectations. And I loved it. Brie Larson and Kaitlyn Dever--both of whom also appeared in The Spectacular Now...not a bad year for them--are fantastic as Grace, a 20 something staff member at a foster care facility called Short Term 12, and Jayden, one of the kids who ends up staying there. Grace is deeply invested in both her job and the kids that stay there and she bonds with Jayden very quickly and deeply. The movie is about many things. It's about growing up and moving on, and dealing with life as best as you can. It's about connecting and finding people who matter to you. It's basically about Grace trying to help the kids in her care while dealing with her own dark past and her impending future with her long-time co-worker boyfriend, Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.--who was also great.). It is a fantastic little film. You should definitely seek it out.

1. The World's End

Ah, and now the big winner. The prettiest girl at the ball. The World's End is without a doubt my favorite film of the year. Due to a heady combination of the most anticipation, the most enjoyment, and the best made god damn film, it easily takes the year's crown. This is the third and final film of the infamous Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy--also known as: The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy--all three are directed by Edgar Wright and star Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Shaun of the Dead (Red Cornetto) was first and after that came Hot Fuzz (Blue Cornetto). Both are phenomenal films, sharp as a razor, funny as hell, witty and charming as all get out, self-aware and embracing all of it, they're two of my all-time favorites. The World's End (Green Cornetto) fits in perfectly with its successors. It's about of a group of friends--grown distant by life and the years in between--returning to their old home town for one last attempt at a legendary bar crawl of their youth. It is an attempt to recapture that old glory and simultaneously move past it, all while trying to salvage those old friendships for the years ahead... and then they discover that their hometown has been taken over by body-snatching aliens. Turns out you can't go home again, right? Like the two before it, The World's End is a flat-out hilarious comedy, a kick-ass action movie, and a touching character piece. It is a send-up of the Alien Invasion films and the "old friends/high school reunion" type of films and yet it is also a fantastic example of those types of films done really well. I loved the world's End. It is part of my all time favorite trilogies. They all have my highest possible recommendation. And just in case you're worried, you don't need to see any or all of them of them, in order to appreciate one of them, so don't be afraid. See this movie.

Honorable Mentions:

It was a tough call. There was lots of pacing and agonizing. There was hemming and hawing and teeth gnashing. It was a truly epic struggle. But in the end, someone had to get cut. Here are the five films that almost made my Top 10... almost, so close, but it was not to be. Even though they didn't make the list, I still encourage you to hunt them down and check them out. They are totally worth it: The Kings of Summer, Zero Charisma, Only God Forgives, Springbreakers, and The Conjuring.

Yes, it's true, I actually did include a Harmony Korine film. Insane, right? I know. Well, it's because it's actually good. Really.

And of course, there's always a few films I have missed that might have appeared on this list if only I hadn't been too busy to make it to the theatre. These might be good, maybe. I can't say for sure, of course, because I haven't seen any of them, so maybe this is a more of a short list of films that I'm suggesting we both check out, because they may or may not be awesome: Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Dallas Buyers ClubHer, The Wolf of Wall StreetBlue Jasmine, Captain Phillips, and Rush.

I know... I'm totally behind on movies this year. It's the loss of Filmzilla, man. Sad shit... Anyway, what do you think? Did I forget anything?

Let me know,

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