Monday, December 30, 2013

Top 10 Films of 2013

And here we are, another year has come and gone.  For me personally, 2013 was better than 2012, but it still had more than its fair share of troubles.  Here's hoping for 2014 to be the best year ever.  As far as film goes, I've already said enough about my feelings on 2013 as a whole, but that's not what today is about, today is about honoring the best films of 2013.  Sure, 2013 was not the best year of film I've ever experienced, but I would gladly put this Top 10, in particular the Top 5, up against any year end list I've ever compiled.  While there were fewer films that I gave A+ ratings to than average, the films I did give A+ ratings to are ones that I have a feeling we'll all be remembering for years to come.

Now, with this year's list, I've decided to just take a new approach.  In previous years I often waited till three weeks into the new year before I posted my year end lists, because so many films released at the end of the year often don't start showing at a theater near me till the new year, however this year I've decided to do it literally at the end of the year.  What does this mean?  Well, it means my list will be different from the average critic's lists, because I wont have seen many of the films that critics have seen.

So what films are eligible?  Pretty much any film I reviewed here on the blog between January 2013 and December 2013, excluding any film that I reviewed that appeared on last year's list, and then next year it will be the same January to December timeframe.  While I used to always try to include every film that was Oscar eligible on my list, I just don't have the luxury of living in New York and LA, and therefore those Oscar films may not be reviewed till January, but that means they'll be eligible for next year's list.  So with that all said, on to the Top 10 Films of 2013!


10.  Ender's Game
(Last Year:  The Secret World of Arrietty)
I really believe the controversy surrounding author Orson Scott Card really hurt this film upon release, which is a shame, because Ender's Game was a very well done science fiction flick.  Scott Card had drawn ire from the media following his opposition against gay marriage, but Scott Card only wrote the book the movie was based on, and that should not be grounds for people to not give the film a shot.  Ender's Game is a thoughtful exploration of our potential future, where genius children are used to operate drones in our war against aliens.  Ideas such as bullying, violence in video games, and the aforementioned drone warfare, are at the forefront of this film and really make you think about your stance on these ideas, of course this is also just an entertaining film.  While there is very little levity, this film features some phenomenally imaginative action sequences and it makes you care for the characters, so much so that when they triumph you want to cheer, and when they are emotionally wrought by the horrors of war decisions, you feel it.

9.  Captain Phillips 
(Last Year:  Lincoln)
I am not always a huge fan of docudramas, where the film is shot like a documentary to give the viewer the feeling of observing real-life events, but for Captain Phillips, that style is what helped make the film (it also doesn't hurt when the film stars Tom Hanks).  In the film, Hanks portrays the titular captain whose boat has been taken over by Somali pirates off the coast of Africa, and what ensues is a tense standoff between the pirates and the US military.  What manages to elevate this material is the fact that Tom Hanks is a movie star that we already feel a connection with, and his everyman persona is what carries the film.  There is not much to his character beyond the fact that he's the captain of a shipping vessel, but our familiarity with Hanks and his ability to bring raw emotion, allows us inside this story and keeps us on that boat with him for the full two plus hours.

8.  Thor: The Dark World
(Last Year:  Silver Linings Playbook)
I said it in my review of this film, and I'll say it again, you either like what Marvel Studios is doing right now, or you don't.  If you like what Marvel is doing with The Avengers-universe with Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, then you love each and every film they make.  While Iron Man 3 was not my favorite of their films, I still enjoy it a great deal, and Thor: The Dark World was everything I wanted it to be.  This was one of the most fun films of the year.  I never felt as if there was a lack of action or humor, and yet there was also enough drama to where I felt as if the stakes were serious.  Of course, what really won me over with this film is the way that Marvel continues to treat the comic books with respect.  Marvel never deviates too far away from what allowed these films to be made in the first place, and that is why I am loving everything they are doing right now (Mandarin subplot in Iron Man 3 excluded).

7.  Jack the Giant Slayer
(Last Year:  Zero Dark Thirty)
Sometimes it's good to see a film that doesn't try to be anything more than just a fun, simple movie, and that's what Jack the Giant Slayer is.  This was one of the biggest flops of the year, but it is one that I feel more people should have seen.  While there is nothing wildly original about director Bryan Singer's vision, this is a straight forward telling of the Jack and the beanstalk fairy tale, complete with a princess and evil giants looking to take over the world below.  There is some nice dry, witty humor throughout the film, with some great swashbuckling action that makes you feel like a kid again.  While the CGI effects weren't the best I've ever seen and were a little too cartoony when matched with the live action material shot in camera, the film's energy and its thematic ideas manage to stand out.  The film's exploration of how stories are passed down and changed through generations, is a fascinating theme that I feel Bryan Singer handles with great clarity while never losing the naive sensibility that makes this film feel so enjoyable.

6.  Star Trek Into Darkness
(Last Year:  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey)
2009's Star Trek was my favorite film of that year, so my expectations perhaps were too high for the sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness.  While I still prefer 2009's Star Trek, I think Into Darkness is a more than worthy successor.  The greatest thing I loved about Star Trek Into Darkness, is it feels just like coming home.  From the moment we see the Paramount logo and hear Michael Giacchino's Star Trek theme play over it, I felt relaxed and comforted.  Then, director J.J. Abrams reintroduced us to the same lovable cast from the first film, while delivering massive action set pieces that created genuine awe and wonder, a rarity in this day and age where films often take their impressive visuals for granted.  While the debate will rage forever regarding the weak anti-climactic ending, as well as to whether or not it was right to pretty much remake Wrath of Khan with this sequel, there is no taking away the fun and rich emotional experience that this film offers.

5.  Rush
(Last Year:  Wreck-It Ralph)
This was a film that I was not expecting to love as much as I did, but I personally found director Ron Howard's Formula-One racing drama, Rush, one of the best cinematic experiences of the year.  Chronicling the 1976 F-1 racing season, involving the rivalry of drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, this was another film that did not get its fair due when out in theaters.  I think a lot of people were like me, thinking that they had no desire to see a film about racecar driving when they don't care about it as a sport, but this film is so much more than that.  This is a film about the idea of rivalry, and the importance it plays in competitive sports making the other person strive to be better because of it.  Most movies about sports typically just give us the cheesy underdog story, but Rush goes for something greater and far more important.  While the film deals with the thematic idea of rivalry, it's also just a great film about the drive within us all to get better and face our fears, and it's because of this -- not to mention the fact that it's also just entertaining -- that I think the Oscars should take notice.

4.  Monsters University
(Last Year:  Skyfall)
Monsters University was the feel good movie of the year, for me.  I laughed more at this film than any other film this past year, and it's because Pixar has made another animated masterpiece.  Here's the thing, Pixar doesn't try to compete with Monsters, Inc. with this prequel, but rather they just simply embrace the fact that this is a simpler film thematically. Pixar embraces the emotional prospects that they can reach through telling the hilarious college years of Mike and Sully by showing us a sweet, innocent tale of unlikely friendship.  However, the greatest idea of the entire film, and one that most films made for kids tend to say the opposite, is that while your heart's desire may be to do this one thing, sometimes you just aren't good enough to do that.  This may make you think this film is a downer,  but it isn't, because when Mike Wazowski learns that he just isn't scary enough to be a professional scarer, he forges himself a new path, which is the greatest lesson this film teaches to both kids and adults.

3.  The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
(Last Year:  The Amazing Spider-Man)
As I've gotten older and spent more time studying and watching films, I've realized that sequels very rarely are better than the original, and yet that's exactly the case here with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.  I actually liked the first Hunger Games, feeling it was a more than adequate adaptation of Suzanne Collins's bestselling novel, but Catching Fire went even further, thanks by and large to new director, Francis Lawrence.  Lawrence came into the franchise with an if it ain't broke, don't fix it mentality.  The filmmakers didn't change anything in terms of look, feel, and tone, they merely refined everything and added on to the world.  All of those things are what a good sequel is supposed to do, and when you can do all that and then deliver a story that is even more clear in terms of character and plot, you have a great sequel.

2.  Saving Mr. Banks
(Last Year:  The Hunger Games)
I had been looking forward to this film for a very long time.  This has been a script that's been buzzed about in Hollywood for years, and unlike so many other films that fail to live up to the hype, this film managed to exceed my expectations.

The wrong way to think of this film is as the making of Mary Poppins, but rather it's a film about Mary Poppins' author, P.L. Travers, and her experience with Walt Disney over the course of two weeks as he tries to get her to sign over the rights.  While I was fascinated seeing a recreation of what working at a movie studio was like back in the early Sixties, the film really finds it heart when it journeys into Travers' childhood.  We slowly learn that it was her traumatic childhood that inspired her to write Mary Poppins in the first place, and that her past may hold the key to Walt convincing her to signing over the rights.

Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks are in tip-top shape as P.L. Travers and Walt Disney, but it was Colin Farrell as Travers' father that delivers the most emotionally resonant performance.  In short, it is how this film deals with the ideas of flawed fathers and the origins and importance of storytelling in our lives that makes this such a valuable emotional experience.  It will make you sing with joy, laugh till you can't laugh anymore, and yet it will also make you cry.  Hollywood doesn't make many films like this anymore, which is all the more reason to see this film.

1.  Gravity
(Last Year:  The Avengers)
This is my fifth year doing a year end top 10 list.  The previous four winners were:  Star Trek, True Grit, War Horse, and The Avengers.  As I write that, I start to think of how eclectic a group it is, balancing blockbuster thrills with drama, and yet this year's winner, Gravity, manages to combine both of those things in a nice, tidy package to join their ranks.

There really was no competition after I first saw Gravity, it was the best film I saw in 2013.  Sometimes you see a movie and you just know that it is going to be a classic, and that was the case here.  The groundbreaking special effects and sound design were legitimately revolutionary and exceeded all of the hype, but the film is going to be remembered a hundred years from now for so much more than just its technological revolutions.

Gravity is just one of those rare moviegoing experiences that has you in its grip from the very first frame, making you feel as if you are experiencing everything that Sandra Bullock's Dr. Ryan Stone is going through.  While the film is a tense thrill ride as Dr. Stone is separated from her space shuttle during a routine mission in space, it is not the action sequences involving space debris that made this film for me, it was the humanity that director Alfonso Cuaron and his son, Jonas, managed to bring to the material in the script that will have people talking about this film forever.

At this point, I really do feel like I have written a book about Gravity, but it is because it's just that good.  This is a film all about rebirth and choosing to live again after a tragedy, and that is what makes this film so much more than just a frivolous series of set pieces and thrills.  Gravity is an emotional experience first and foremost, and an entertainment second, and if you look at any film that's ever become a classic, that is how it typically pans out, which is why Gravity is already a classic of cinema.

I could go on and on, but there is no need.  This film should win every Oscar it will be nominated for, from Best Picture to Best Director to Best Actress.  It's technologically revolutionary with a singular directorial vision, featuring a bravura performance from a respected actress in a story that is emotionally deep with Hitchcock-level suspense (I hope that wasn't too much of a run-on sentence).  This is a Movie with a capital "M," and needs to be seen on the bigscreen.  No other movie in 2013 can really make that same claim, and that is why Gravity trumps all to be the best film of 2013.

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