Now that the holly, jolly dust of the December release barrage has settled, and we are actually able to ponder all the films that have come down the pike, 2013 might not eclipse that golden zenith in cinema – the legendary year of ’84 – but I sure had some fun. Stock in Steve McQueen and Spike Jonze skyrocketed (possibly future-proofing their status as infallible filmmakers from here on in), lots of stellar films with white-hot buzz came unexpectedly out of the blue (Fruitvale Station, Short Term 12), lots of docs wowed audiences and and share stories ranging from inspiring to devastating (A Band Called Death, Blackfish) even Disney was able to recapture some of that nearly gone forever charm from their hits of yesteryear. So, borrowing a line Frank Sinatra so famously crooned, it was a very good year.
Minor disappointments and polarizing titles (Star Trek Into Darkness, Only God Forgives) reared their heads and this year we suffered some really loathsome titles (The Host, After Earth, The Lone Ranger, Oz the Great and Powerful being the most head-hanging offenders) but cinemas screens still shone with good that managed to rise waaay above the bad.
It kind of goes without saying that you can’t see everything and so this year-end recap may be narrow in vision or light in substance. But it’s more about those titles that stuck with me for the experience of it all and not me placing my awards season bets; that’s pretty much why these fall under such proprietary and opinionated categories. I have pretty wide-spread tastes and don’t claim to have too highbrow of an opinion on any film. When I set out to make GST all I wanted to do was call out the highs and the lows of the good and bad out there. My tolerance for stupid stuff (yes there is a time and place for stupid things) is pretty high and my sense of humor pretty broad which lets me laugh at and still enjoy bits of a film even if, overall, it is a terrible affair.
Though I am the “founder/editor” of this film review site I am still view things as a fan, which mean that my rules are simple – charm, entertain or surprise me and you’ve basically won me over. That’s why I tend to give a pass to some films that others write off or lambaste. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching movies it’s that you shouldn’t take anything too seriously (thank you Van Wilder!). Also I’ve come to understand the negative affects of over-hyping and that at the end of the day opinions are subjective. Anyway, with a 5th anniversary coming in February (yay us!) I’ll save rambling and more personal views for next month and just get to the year end wrap up…
Zal Batmanglij and his partner in crime Brit Marling are noted for their ability to produce so much product with so few materials (see: Sound of My Voice). But The East shows they can weave some extra special DIY magic with just the right amount of confident Hollywood backing. The spy genre is something we don’t get much of in recent years and Batmanglij gives renewed interest in espionage, secrets & lies all wrapped up in a nice vintage feeling blanket. In my review I called Brit and Zal the future of film and I still stand by that. Can’t wait to see what they cook up next.
This year you couldn’t check Facebook or Twitter without hearing people rave about this little indie project. And you know what? They were absolutely right. A darling little picture about a foster care facility (that helps kids move on after being put through the physical/psychological rigors of the foster system) pulls at your heart in so many different ways. The directing and acting in Destin Cretton’s film is just superb and is so tangibly authentic it borders on visceral. Further, it feels like the screen has been removed to put you that much closer to every scene with this amazingly colorful cast. It’s not often you come along a diamond in the rough but Short Term 12 is one and deserves a wider audience. In fact it has such positive emotional resonance you probably wouldn’t be surprised if you end up joining the Peace Corp. after the credits rolled.
Runner Up – Kon-Tiki
Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy are fine actresses in their own right but what’s that you say? You want to put them together in a buddy cop movie? Some might say that dog won’t hunt…or however that saying goes. Well surprise, surprise, surprise, it seems those naysayers (I put myself at the front of that line) just didn’t know Paul Fieg very well. Taking such a well-worn genre, tropes and all, and turning it on its head just by casting women? Wow, what a novel approach but it worked and The Heat blew me away and is hands down my pick for funniest movie of the year. Did not see that coming. Paul, can you turn water in to wine for your next trick?
Runner Up – Warm Bodies
2013 has had more hits than misses and maybe that’s because the past five to ten years have repeatedly taught me to keep my expectations in check. That said the hype-machine can be a cruel mistress and of this year’s let-downs it was Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion that failed to connect on nearly every level. Was it a bad movie? Yes, especially when compared to all the great films it used as “inspiration”. Granted it wins points for visuals (and M83’s music is phenomenally epic) but it seems nothing was learned — not story, pacing, casting or staging — after Kosinski’s debut effort, the gloriously vapid music video that had all the depth of a microchip. It may look pretty, or pretty much ripped off of every great sc-fi film, but Kosinsi is now 0 for 2.
I guess you can blame Christopher Nolan for getting fans’ expectations set super high going into this one. After his stellar and successful Batman series (yes, TDKR did leave fans wanting and scratching our heads about really hollow plot devices and holes) Man of Steel seemed the perfect marriage between Zack Snyder (still a fan), with his eye for visuals, and Nolan, who really understands scope and world building. But alas this unnecessary origin story (hey, have you ever heard of Krypton before?) lacked the familiar vitality (that means life!) and charm that makes Superman who he is. Efforts were not totally in vain as Cavill, even with big red boots to fill, did a damn fine job but the weight of the super-serious story held the film back back when we wanted it to soar.
Since I already said enough about it in my Lone Ranger review I’ll pick something else. We all know Steve Jobs was a genius, and a visionary, but beyond that he was a man who knew what he wanted, exactly what he wanted, and the most important thing to know about him is he knew how to get it. Joshua Michael Stern’s film makes no effort to portray Jobs as a techno saint and even goes too far to show what an uncompromising a-hole he was. But like Fincher’s The Social Network you can’t be successful without being so focused you become highly unscrupulous approaching the end goal. There are fine points to the film, and Kutcher himself embodies the late Jobs well, but the film never comes very close to being inspiring and, worse, ends before things really got interesting. Pixar? iPhone? Eh, maybe they’ll cover that in the sequel jOBS II-GS…that’s a little Apple humor for you old folks.
Runner Up – The Great Gatsby
I’ve said this countless times but going the prequel route was really the only way to get back to the Monsters universe. I mean who would want to mess with that ending? You know, one of the sweetest and most heart-warming endings in the last 50 years. Would you want to see what happened after Rick and Louie walked into the fog in Casablanca? Didn’t think so. But seeing Mike Wazowski’s life-long quest to become a scarer and the friends he made before he and Sulley we the best of friends in Monsters University is a trip that gets funnier and more delightful with multiple viewings. The visuals, the characters/designs and Randy Newman’s music all just sing.
Runner Up – Iron Man 3
These days Sandra Bullock wears, having earned mind you, the crown of American’s sweetheart (kind of the recent year’s Meg Ryan if you will) and with each film she reminds us why we love her so. If it weren’t for the commitment and emotional tenacity that got her through bad situation after bad situation in Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity astronaut Ryan Stone could easily have failed to make that taut emotionally tethered connection with audiences. Bullock just has a way of pulling us in with her approachable charm..kind of like gravity actually.
Runners up – Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave), Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks), Daniel Brühl (Rush)
I don’t care what you say about it, The Croods is all kinds of fun. DreamWorks has proven they have what it takes to stay in the animation game. This highly entertaining story is just a blast, even more so if you didn’t expect much from the advertisements (to be fair it was about as tough to favorably market as say John Carter). A wild, breathtakingly imaginative, pre-hysterical adventure combines the wonderment of Avatar’s visual spectacle with DreamWorks’ lovably endearing characters. Don’t judge this by the cover because the story inside will amaze and delight. Have at it and don’t be afraid to go back for seconds!
Thinking back over what films moved us, inspired us, broke our hearts or warmed them in 2013 few (more like none) have had the scale, the depth, the impact and atmospheric experience of Alfonso Cuarón’s space fiasco. Each year the film I look to crown as “the best” is the one that looks at film as more than a means of redressing well-worn themes and plots and instead really pushes the boundaries of the medium. Something like Life of Pi (which was was my vote for Best Film last year) shows us what film can be by constantly breaking and reinventing the confines of the filmmaking process itself.
Gravity does everything it set out to do and more (plus a clever little supplemental feature helps flesh out the amazing story just a tad). Moreover Cuarón gives us a dazzling product that is very nearly a once in a life time experience. Why? Well unless you happen to own an IMAX theatre you may never witness such grand spectacle again. In a way, just like Ryan’s weightless but jaw-dropping misadventures, that’s not a bad thing.
So that concludes my take on the films of two-zero-one-three. What did you think of 2013? Let us know what you liked and didn’t like in the comments below.