Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013: Year In Movies (Part I- Who said 13 was unlucky?)

2013: Year In Movies

Part I- My Favorite Films of the Year!
If you'd like an idea of what I'm preparing to write about, I wrote an introductory piece last night. Tonight, I will unleash my favorite films of 2013. In the year we just ended, I saw almost 160 films released in 2013. You can see the full list of 2013 films I saw this year right here. Since April, I have had plenty to say about the year as a whole, and I've got just a little bit more to say before I move to 2014.

As I stated in my preamble, I thought 2013 was an excellent year for movies. It was a year so good that I feel a top ten list will not do the trick this year. Growing up over the years, I always heard a great deal about how unlucky and sensitive people were about the number 13. I'm not here to gripe on those people because that just isn't my business. However, after how good 2013 was as a movie year, I am going to try to salvage the number if I can. I am going to offer a list of thirteen films I consider my favorites of the year. These are the thirteen experiences I will revisit the most in the coming years. These are the thirteen movies I highly recommend you all get a hold of if you haven't seen them yet.

Even though I sampled quite a few new releases last year, there is still plenty I did not see. I'm not a professional film critic, I'm just a normal guy with a passionate hobby. So please keep in mind that this list could change within the next few months. The lists I offer up at the end of the year are always going to be subjective. In 2013, I missed "Don Jon," "Inside Llewyn Davis" "Lone Survivor," "Metallica: Through The Never" and "Her," among others. I will get to those as soon as its humanly possible, and I hope I enjoy them all. Right now, all I can judge is the films I saw, and these thirteen films are very much worth your time and attention.

Enough talk, time to get to the list. As I list the order of films, you can click the title to read my original reviews.

Director Jeff Nichols created a simple yet sincere story this year that effected me more than I thought it would. Not only that, but his story felt a lot different compared to the familiarity we as an audience have been plagued with for countless years. Matthew McConaughey hasn't been this textured, this tortured or this alive in a long time. He creates a strange yet sympathetic figure that deeply pieces the audience in unsuspecting ways. However, the secret weapon of this film is the work done by two young leads, Tye Sheridan and Jacob Loftland. Forget Miley Cyrus, this is what young talent looks like.

I am always a sucker for a movie about someone trying to find themselves. Someone desperately trying to fit into a world they can't. So they stumble and find something they needed all along and it ends up being better than they could have imagined. Liam James plays Duncan, and Duncan's journey in this movie is wounded at first, but fulfilling in the end. I also have to highlight the work of Sam Rockwell playing a care-free, water park owner who puts Duncan under his wing. Their relationship in this movie is possibly the best onscreen duo 2013 had to offer, and they represent only an inch of the wonders this film offers.

I would like to go on record saying that whomever hired Olivia Wilde for this movie needs a pay raise immediately. Olivia Wilde is, quite frankly, on fire in this movie. She plays a character who seems real, she's very down-to-earth. She isn't the typical, generic, sex symbol she usually plays. As a result, she has created a character I just wanted to spend unlimited time with. The same could be said about the work done by Anna Kendrick, Jake Johnson and Ron Livingston. When I see a movie filled with people I'd love to hang out with, that's a good sign. Add a juicy story about complicated friendships and rocky relationships, and you've got a keeper.

I am sure eventually, I will sound like a broken record when I say this, but Greta Gerwig is a goddess. I did not expect to like a film about a couple of New York City hipsters, one who has aspirations to become a dancer. But leave it Ms. Gerwig to surprise me and etch a big smile on my face. "Frances Ha" is a smart, touching, hilarious little film about how we should always hold on to our best friends. No matter what complications come up in life, no matter who they fall in love with, keep your best friend. There was not a better message I fell in love with this year, add that plus a clear channeling of Woody Allen's "Manhattan" and you've got a great comedy.

Man, this was a rough sit through, easily the darkest film this year released to audiences. There were more unpleasant groans and moans in the theater when I saw this than any film I've seen in recent memory. When I get this film on DVD, there is a deeply upsetting scene involving a dog that I know I'll fast forward through each time I watch this. However, despite this films darkness, it crafts a story and theme that are undeniable. The parallels to karma are hard to miss, and there are wonderful performances by Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, Maria Bello, Terrance Howard and Viola Davis. All of whom deserve credit for their outstanding portraits of desperate people. 

This is not the movie the trailers say it is, this isn't the film you think it is. This movie is rigorous entertainment on a level none of you are going to realize. This is a movie that will lead you one way, only to force down a different path, then ultimately stray you once more down yet another path. The end result however, is a film masterpiece unlike anything I have seen in awhile. Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendez are all on fire in this movie, and the way their performances echo throughout the entire movie is half the awesome. 

I am profoundly dumbfounded that this film isn't getting more end-of-the-year praise I feel it deserves. It has been a very long while since that mystery completely blew my mind with its ending. It has been awhile since a movie kept me guessing throughout its entire running time. The biggest praise I can give a mystery is this; if Alfred Hitchcock saw this, he'd love it. The film is powered by its masterful performances by Rosario Dawson, James McAvoy and Vincent Cassel. If Ms. Dawson keeps getting work this good, she's going to win a Oscar one day, believe it.

Yep, I loved it that much. I could spend all night discussing why the combination of Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Jennifer Lawrence was an awesome one. But, you'd be reading all night. All I can say is sometimes starpower pays off and sometimes it doesn't. But leave it to David O. Russell to find all the right beats with his cast. He also creates a film that is slick-looking, wickedly funny and positively wonderful. 

I know I saw several horror films this year, but "12 Years A Slave" was indeed the scariest film of 2013. Director Steve McQueen took easily one of the darkest parts of American History, held a big mirror to it, and forced us to watch it. McQueen doesn't do anything slight in this movie, slavery is handled in an appropriate way. Not only that, but Chiwetel Ejiofor is about to break out in a really big way, so watch out for him. It also blows my mind to say that he is just one of the many great performances in this film. Michael Fassbender is pure evil in this film, and I kind of can't believe its him. Everything clicks in this film, and the result is harrowing as it is brilliant.

Strap in, everybody. I've got a lot to say on this deeply misunderstood superhero film. 2013 may have been a year of disagreement, and there was not a single film that was more debated than "Man of Steel." The reactions to this film, positive or negative, or so red-faced and full of such passionate malice that it hardly seems like people are talking about a movie at all, more like politics. 

The first Superman movie came out in 1978 and it was directed by Richard Donner. Donner set a standard with the character that I feel he nor anybody else ever touched, until Zack Snyder came along and changed the game completely. I think that is part of a lot hate toward this film. I think many people went in thinking they were about to see a Donner movie in a modern world. But that's not what Zack Snyder did here. What Snyder did is he completely re-imagined the character. He created a story about a specific time in Superman's life before he became the extraordinary figure. In the process, Snyder made the most character-driven superhero movie ever made. For that alone, he should get mad props but instead gets open scorn. Yes, "Man of Steel" wasn't the movie anybody expected it to be, but is that really bad?

Lots of people like to say that "Man of Steel" isn't fun. I guess I don't understand that. I found fun in the huge action set pieces that put "The Avengers" to shame. Those action pieces we'll talk more about in just a little bit. I found fun in the brief moments of humor between Lois and Superman. I found fun in the cleverness of Jor-El and how continually appears in many of the characters lives. But overall, I was overwhelmed by the emotional journey of the characters. A big criticism I hear is how poorly Pa Kent (Kevin Costner) raises Clark. But think about it, if you found a bizarre baby in your tool-shed, and you knew that the baby would eventually change the way we view the universe forever, what would you do? Kent doesn't make Clark afraid of himself because he's a bad father, Kent always expected Clark to reveal who he really was, but he wanted Clark to wait for the right time. I guess that storyline resonated more with me because I personally am adopted. I can't tell you anything about my birth parents, never once met them. All I know is my parents gave me a life full of love and joy. And I firmly believe that my father turned me into a responsible individual. That's essentially what Kent is trying to teach Clark here. 

Another criticism I love is when people say "Superman doesn't do anything heroic in this movie." Hmm, so saving several men from a burning oil rig when his ship captain was ready to write them off as dead isn't heroic? Flying toward machine destroying Earth so that he could stop it, knowing full well that it could kill him in the process isn't heroic? Choosing Earth, the place where he was raised over Krypton, his birth planet solely because he feels a deep, personal connection with humans isn't heroic? Even as a boy, Clark did everything to be a bigger person, and to help people. If you pay attention we learn that Clark has been pretty selfless his whole life. I see what happened though. Superman caused Metropolis plenty of damage in his fight with Zod, so many viewers found him to be villainous. Let's think about that for a minute, if two superpowered beings came to Earth and had at each other in a metropolitan area, what do you expect that would look like? I think it would look a lot like the huge fight that closes the film. Zod is a being with a particular purpose and when Clark takes that purpose away, Zod was ready to wage a one-man war. That is why Clark couldn't simply fly away. We also have to remember that this fight is the first Clark is ever engaged in, Clark hasn't fully become Superman yet, so obviously Zod gives him a run for his money. Its a brutal scene, but it felt right to me.

Overall, Zack Snyder took a much different approach to the character, and it something I'll return to many times in the future. 

If "New World" were just another gangster film, I can assure you it would not have made my top list. But leave it to Korea to create a film that is ballsy, relentless, yet smart and classy as well. Choi Min-sik is becoming one of my favorite actors working today, in any country. Look at his work in the original "Oldboy" as well as his work in "I Saw The Devil." He's a guy with real depth and range, playing seemingly different characters each movie. Plus, this is a gangster movie that is driven by its characters rather than swagger and actions. Which makes the final payoffs the film delivers all the more better.

If you asked me if a third sequel to a film made in the 1990's would ever crack my top film list, I would have probably laughed. However Richard Linklater is not your average film director and his "Before" series is not your average love story. This is a film steered completely by its script, so its a good thing its a well-written one. The conversations are so grand and the actors throw themselves right into them. I know nothing about Linklater's personal life, but he seems to be getting keen insight on love and relationships from something, because this is intelligent, grounded storytelling. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have become very loose as their characters in this series, and this third entry is richer than the last two.

I said this in my original review and I will say one more time: believe the hype. 

It seems so simple to create a movie involving two astronauts in deep space on a mission, and suddenly their mission goes wrong. But director Alfonso Cuaron crafted a nail-biting thriller that is better than it needed to be. This is real well orchestrated, mature acting done by both Clooney and Bullock. In a film that pits its characters in an unthinkable situation, the performances have to be good, or the entire movie is done. Clooney and Bullock clearly understood that, because this is splendid work by each of them. Visually speaking, "Gravity" is pure magic. The attention to detail will leave anybody speechless. In fact, on nearly every level, "Gravity" is magic. Which is why its my favorite film of the year.

So these are my picks for the best films of the year, but we are not done yet. Tomorrow night, I will post my runner's up list, the movies that almost made this list. There is also even more year-end madness to get through. So be sure your checking back regularly to read it all. Happy New Year everybody! 

Feel free to post your lists below!

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