2013 was a busy year for me and 2014 is gearing up to be just as interesting. I started 2013 as a law office clerk on the coast of California and ended it an event planner for a corporate chain of restaurants in Austin, TX. Somewhere in between all that I found time to get a dog and put up with his shit, see Kanye West live for the first time (praize), experiment with Asian cuisine, get very familiar with any and all eateries and food trucks in Austin, ate octopus which I immediately regretted, and another year passed in which I payed for this domain every month and barely wrote in it. So with the new year comes a new attempt to keep up with myself. Proof of all that other stuff:
Another thing I did in 2013 was watch 46 of the movies that were released, and since I like to talk about movies, I’ll list them along with a few words about them. Then I’ll decide on my top ten. Right here for all to see because I know everyone is so interested in what movies I like.
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters- Pleased by the amount of gore, but overall forgettable.
Movie 43- Not as bad as cancer but less enjoyable than ringworm.
Top Gun 3D- Buncha hunks.
A Good Day to Die Hard- Take everything that made the original Die Hard trilogy unique and completely disregard it then cry yourself to sleep because you paid to see it in IMAX because you were late for Side Effects.
Burt Wonderstone- In an alternate universe this was a really funny movie. In ours it was like watching several careers simultaneously fizzle out.
Place Beyond the Pines- Brilliant, I wish more filmmakers were as ambitious as Cianfrance.
Evil Dead (remake)- Not my cup of tea but I did drink it all.
Trance- A very unfocused and confusing albeit beautiful ride, I thought I’d like it more than I did.
Pain and Gain- Michael Bay takes a shot at dark humor and it worked, even if it did drag on for a moment. One of the more quotable movies of the year.
Mud- The McConnaissance is upon us. Great acting all around in a coming of age story that doesn’t rely on Southern character clichés like a lazier movie would.
Iron Man 3- The first movie I’ve seen in a long time that fooled the entire audience and anticipating internet with the twist. Too bad they hated it, but I liked it.
The Great Gatsby- A Baz Luhrman fest that was fun to watch and a stylistic adaptation of the source.
Star Trek: Into Darkness- Take everything that made the first Abrams Star Trek movie charming and try to redo it but without the charm. Criminally underuse your villain and fill your movie with fan service and rehashed scenes from old movies. Add a potato, some broth, and baby you got a generic action movie goin’.
Frances Ha- Charming enough to keep me interested which is good because of the lack of plot. Well written and acted, mumblecore at its finest.
Man of Steel- Enough to keep me entertained for an hour and a half of the two and a half hour runtime, but overall lacking in depth or good writing. Lots of grey.
This is the End- A great addition to the movies of the Apatow crowd. Just a lot of fun with some sick references. One thing I love is when actors play ridiculous versions of themselves (see: Extras) and This is The End nailed that.
World War Z- Not bad.
Monsters University- Pixar made another good movie. Stop the presses, everyone.
Wolf of Wall Street- Kept me highly entertained throughout the three hour runtime. Some great performances and wonderfully fun yet dark movie making.
Frozen- Maybe I just missed out on this one, but it didn’t feel as fresh as I was told it was. Maybe that’s just because I’m still convinced Let It Go is just Defying Gravity with some reassembled lyrics.
Inside Llewyn Davis- Complex, enjoyable, funny, and frustrating. Watching a character go no where sounds boring but the Coen’s have mastered the combination of mundane humor and folk music.
American Hustle- Enjoyable, well acted, well dressed, funny, but something just kept this movie from being as unforgettable as it should have been. Lots of talent, not enough punch.
Her- Conceptually brilliant and surprisingly emotional. A beautiful movie and a great look at what makes us human and how we deal with all this bullshit we feel all the time.
Anchorman 2- Surprisingly funny and a great sequel.
Despicable Me 2- If you liked Despicable Me, this is an alright movie. If you loved Despicable Me, it’s a pretty good movie. If you didn’t like Despicable Me, fuck yourself.
The Way, Way Back- A fresh and touching coming of age movie with some great performances from Sam Rockwell and Toni Collette. Another great script from Jim Rash and Nat Faxon.
Pacific Rim- Seeing a live action anime was fun for a while, but the cliché character development and borderline bad dialogue made the run time feel super unnecessary.
Only God Forgives- What?
The Act of Killing- Difficult to watch yet fascinating. Most surprising loss of the Oscars. A documentary that looks at morality and redemption in those who killed to maintain power. Powerful stuff.
Blue Jasmine- An okay script (or as I like to call ‘em, Woody Allen scripts, waka waka waka) made good with great a cast and the best lead female performance of the year from Blanchett hands down.
Elysium- Fuck Elysium.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints- A visually stunning and poignant story, but just a little too disjointed to make it one of the best of the year.
Prisoners- Beautifully shot, score another one for Deakins, and an intense thriller. Not my cup of tea but not bad by any means.
Rush- This was probably not an easy movie to make good but Ron Howard did it. He made a true story about two rival drivers into a well paced and entertaining movie while staying true to the facts. Very well done.
World’s End- As enjoyable as previous installments of the trilogy, but failed to be as unique or inventive as the ones before.
Prince Avalanche- An honest and entertaining movie about a friendship. Simple, touching, fun to watch. David Gordon Green can be hit or miss but with this one I think he hit.
Don Jon- Have to say that I appreciate the direction Levitt took this movie. A strong debut to directing and an enjoyable movie with some fun performances. Brie Larson is one to look out for in the future.
Gravity- Incredible to watch in a theater. Probably would not seek a viewing outside of one. I could have forgiven Clooney being so Clooney or the really ham fisted symbolism and dialogue but with both one must admit it had some issues in the writing department.
Captain Phillips- Intense, good performances, exactly as expected.
12 Years a Slave- I was already a major fan of Steve McQueen’s work, but seeing how respectfully he handled the material and how well paced, well shot, and powerful this one was cemented the fact that he just understands how drama works and how best to present it to an audience.
The Counselor- High hopes dashed by mucky dialogue and slight disjointedness in storytelling. I would have followed you to the ends of the Earth, Cormac.
Dallas Buyers Club- Raw performances from the leading men and very enjoyable at times, but slightly held back by the biopic curse in which a movie becomes a series of scenes rather than a deliberately paced story.
Thor: The Dark World- Spent most the movie wondering why I keep giving Marvel my money on opening weekend. Hype is a weird thing.
Hunger Games: Catching Fire- The movie seemed to drag on for a bit but the ending really tied the room together.
Machete Kills- As a big fan of Machete and similar homages to grind house, I was very disappointed by Machete Kills. Too many cameos, not enough character, bad CGI, and the movie literally started with a trailer for the sequel veritably spoiling any interesting plot points. I mean, I know we don’t take Machete too seriously, but who does that?
Nebraska- Sleeper hit of the year, though I have always loved Alexander Payne. The humor is there in spades and rarely do I see a movie represent a part of the country so well. Gotta love a movie where old people take the spotlight in an industry that so does not reward age.
My top ten for the year? Well, it would probably look something like this:
10. Pain and Gain
Lots of surprises on this list so it’s only right to start with one of the most surprising. A Michael Bay Movie. That’s not to imply that Michael Bay isn’t a capable filmmaker, you can see he has an eye for visuals, but I think the last time a Michael Bay movie made my top ten was when I was 10 years old and I saw Armageddon in theaters.
So what was so appealing about Pain and Gain? Lots of things. I loved Wahlberg and Johnson’s characters. I love how quotable the movie was. I loved how dark it was yet how flashy the visuals were. It wasn’t perfect, it dragged on for a bit and the amount of movement the camera and story do can get tiring, but it was definitely one of the biggest pleasant surprises of the year.
Mud has so much to say about relationships, where they start and how they end up. Mud is constantly searching for that perfect love he had when he was young even though the woman he loves and their relationship is far from perfect, or even feasible. He’s so obsessed with his fairy tale ending that he unknowingly manipulates a teenager into stealing and lying to help him in the name of love. A hard hitting realization of the reality of love and a great coming of age story. McConaughey certainly grabs your attention, but Tye Sheridan held the movie up.
8. Blue Jasmine
I’ve been luke warm to Woody Allen in the last decade, but I must say he pulled a career performance out of one of the best working actresses today. The supporting cast around her only helped elevate the movie. Bobby Canavale, Louis CK, Sally Hawkins, Andrew Dice Clay, and Alec Baldwin were all great but Blanchett took this movie to the next level with her infuriating yet sympathetic portrayal of the upper class crashing down to the middle. In short, her character is what I picture Gwyneth Paltrow to be like in real life.
7. The Way, Way Back
Who knew Steve Carrell could be such a convincing asshole? From the very first scene I knew this wasn’t Michael Scott we were dealing with. A surprisingly touching movie that has a dash of Rockwell carelessness to make it fun. Makes me very excited for what Jim Rash has for us in the future.
6. Dallas Buyers Club
Even though this movie suffered from the curse of the biopic, I just cannot deny the performances from Leto and McConaughey. Of course I’m not alone, with the majority of awards season praising them. A sad movie that perks up just often enough to keep the average viewer entertained and with some of the more raw acting of the year.
5. 12 Years a Slave
McQueen took a subject that few filmmakers dare to take on seriously and made a movie that was as respectful to the time period as it was to the audience. Without getting gratuitous or masturbatory, the harrows and inhumanity of the era of slavery were depicted brutally beautifully. While the movie hinges on Chiwetel Ejiofor’s powerful performance as Solomon Northrup, I don’t think anyone will deny that Lupita N’yongo had some of the most scarring screen time last year.
4. Wolf of Wall Street
Scorcese, DiCaprio, true story, anti hero, crude humor and dirty language. These are a few of my favorite things. But what really stood out to me in Wolf of Wall Street? Well, other than being incredibly entertaining all the way through and very memorable, Jonah Hill had to be the best part of the whole thing to me. It’s amazing to see the kid from Superbad turn into a two time Oscar nominee who works with directors like Tarantino and Scorcese and I couldn’t get enough of Donnie and those fucking teeth. The movie had some great literary chops as well. My favorite scene had to be the scene on the boat where Belfort meets the FBI agent investigating him for the first time. Brilliantly written so that you’re not sure who’s fucking with who until the end of the scene and just a great first confrontation.
3. Inside Llewyn Davis
With several movies in the Coen’s filmography taking up spots in my all time favorites list, there was little doubt in my mind that the Coens would again worm their way into my funny bone. It was difficult, however, to get truly hype for this movie considering the incredibly low key release, mostly on the art house circuit. It wasn’t until well into awards season that I got a chance to see it but boy did it deliver. Modern day Sissyphus Llewyn Davis struggles to not fall into obscurity as an artist after the suicide of his folk duo other half. The humor is dry, the colors are muted, and the characters are mostly assholes, but there is so much charm and wit here it’s hard to deny, not to mention a standout performance from Oscar Isaac and his velvety smooth voice.
Some might not like how the movie is pretty much two hours of the protagonist going nowhere, but the cyclical way the movie came back on itself struck me as a brilliant move. As if to say that this was not only a week in Llewyn’s life, it was every week in his life in one form or another. And while some may feel bad for Llewyn or maybe hate him for his lack of control over his life, I can’t help but feel good that the Llewyn’s of the world are out there taking their art seriously and not letting the world stop them from making it. Keep on keeping on.
Poignancy without pretentiousness seems to be the name of the game for Alexander Payne. He has a way to make a movie that might come off as pretentious in another’s hands, but the characters are real and the filmmaking simple. Give him a group of actors who can forget they are actors for a while and a script that might make you pine for home wherever it may be, preferably involving a road trip, and he might just give you one of the best movies of the year. Sideways did it, The Descendants did it, and now Nebraska has kept it going. While someone might point out the similarities between these movies and call shenanigans, I applaud him for making such unique and touching movies every time out the gate. Plus, let’s not forget this guy made Election with Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon. Classic.
What can I say about Her that I probably haven’t already forced you to listen to me say? It works perfectly well as both a sci fi and a romance movie without sacrificing either. The script is so full of emotion and moments that will make you question what defines a relationship or even humanity and the near futuristic world the story takes place in is just as fascinating as the relationship it focuses on. In Her we are privy to an amazing time in technology, a time when AI is discovered and marketed to the masses. What we see is a progression of AI’s forming relationships with their owners, pushing their capabilities, and ultimately leaving our plane of existence. But that’s not what the movie focuses on. All of that happens in the background. What we get is a touching love story between Theodore and Samantha, a statistically rare relationship as he says. We get to see the progression of their relationship while a million stories like it play out differently in the background. Spike Jonze was able to ask more philosophical sci fi questions about what makes us human and what love is exactly in two hours than some sci fi movies can manage at all. Without even mentioning the brilliant shooting locations of Shanghai or the detail of the world there is so much to talk about conceptually. About how people are so disconnected from each other they are willing to form relationships with OS’s. About how Theodore could write such raw letters to people he’s never met but he can’t keep a relationship going for the life of him. About what happens when the ability to love in one partner becomes greater than the other’s. There was so much going on in this movie that first place on my list is no competition. Her is a movie that I will always be able to learn something from and will always strike a chord in us as we all seek to connect with each other by disconnecting from the real world.
So that’s it, my almighty top ten of 2013. But you know how it goes. That list will probably be different tomorrow or the next day.
But not too different….