Sunday, January 19, 2014
The Best Movies of 2013
2013 has come and past. We're well into 2014 now. Well, so says Western Civilization. The Chinese say its 4710, the Jews say its 5774, the Byzantines would say its 7522, but they're all dead now, so who cares what they think? By any account though, I am late. Everybody else has posted their Best Of List, and I'm just that terribly behind the times. Even the Academy has its list out for the Best Picture Nominees. We have a whole new year, whole new possibilities, and I can't stop being nostalgic for two weeks ago. What can I say? I don't work very quickly.
I gave this list a lot of thought, in fact, entirely too much thought, since I was planning it out since July at least. That means that its definitely the best Best Of List you'll ever read, but unfortunately its hopelessly compromised by the fact that I haven't seen every movie that came out in two-zero-one-three. Yeah, I know "Captain Phillips" got very good press, but I just did not care to go see it. Maybe "Grown Ups 2" is a modern masterpiece, I doubt it, and I'm happy to never find out. Also, these are MY choices, they don't have to determine your opinions about anything. I have my own biases, fetishes, and cultural programming, you have yours. Neither of us probably have true free will, but who cares, we got some great movies to talk about!
Anyway, first, the Honorable Mentions, five movies that were very good, but I just did not think were worthy of the final list, for whatever reason:
Despicable Me 2
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
And now that I've proven myself a complete moron by slighting "American Hustle", the future Best Picture winner, here's the true list:
15. Furious 6
I never would have thought that the day would come when a Fast and Furious movie would end up on my favorites list for the year. It was a franchise that began well mired in serious mediocrity, but eventually blossomed into a self-aware avalanche of ridiculousness. "Furious 6" may be one of the dumbest movies of 2013, but that doesn't keep it from being a riotous good time. We have modified cars that flip over other vehicles like a pancake spatula, a tank getting flipped over by magic unbreakable inelastic cable (the kind that usually only exists in a Freshmen Physics course), and of course, Vin Diesel crashing his car on purpose and catching Michelle Rodriguez MID AIR and landing safely on a car windshield. I haven't seen movies this dumb and shameless since the days of the 1990s. Its good to see that well into the 20th century, we're still making movies as stupid and as much as "Face/Off".
14. The Counselor
Looking forward, there are a lot of movies that are not very pleasant stories. "The Counselor" is the story of a Texas lawyer who decides to invest heavily into the Mexican drug trade, as you would expect, it does not end pleasantly. And from the very first moment he makes that deal, he has doomed himself, his loving wife, his friends, and his entire universe. There is nothing he can do, there is nothing anybody can do, the noose is already around his neck, and it has a mechanical device fitted to it, slowly tightening, slicing through flesh, until decapitation. Cormac McCarthy and Ridley Scott created a deliberately paced and heavy, extremely literary movie, which meant that a lot of people thought it was merely pretentious and slow. The Counselor certainly isn't for everybody, especially people who like to pretend that the Mexican Cartels do not exist, and that White lawyers rule the universe. But despite the impending tragedy, its a very entertaining movie, with fantastic performances all around, and the funniest scene of 2013: Cameron Diaz fucking a Lamborghini.
Mystery Thrillers as a genre have generally gone the way of horror movies - Hollywood is never going to stop making them, but it seems like its only once in a lifetime that you'll see one that's actually decent. Prisoners isn't just decent, its great. In the midst of a typically snowy and awful Pennsylvania winter, two children are kidnapped by an unknown individual. The police are helpless, the parents are desperate, and eventually really dark and incredibly violent moral choices are made. Hugh Jackman as the star gives an amazing truly intense performance, Oscar-worthy, if only this were an Oscarbait movie. Its a gritty movie asking us how far can we as a society allow ourselves to go in order to save that which is most precious to us. The thrills don't come from the whodunit plotline, but rather from the real crushing moral dilemma.
12. 12 Years a Slave
Slavery has long been regarded as the greatest crime of all of American history. Its difficult, therefore, to actually face it, to stand up to our history and watch it unfold on the screen. Hundreds of years later the wound is still deep, our society is still wrenched and divided by the decisions made by people who long ago ceased to exist. "12 Years a Slave" is perhaps the most relatable story we, a modern audience, could appreciate, throwing a Nothern-born African American who lived his entire life in a generally free and open society, and then being betrayed, enslaved, and ignored for twelve terrible years. He cannot fight back, he cannot even protest his innocence, because the Whites only want him to serve, and the Black slaves are already defeated. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives an impressive performance as the lead, but I'd say he's outshown by the mad plantation owner played by Michael Fassbender. Not a pleasant viewing experience, but an important one.
11. Evangelion 3.0: You (Cannot) Redo
The Rebuild of Evangelion project is the most exciting and most interesting film franchise that's currently airing. "Evangelion 3.0" is the darkest chapter yet by far, finally cutting every last tie this series had to the plotline of the original series. The exciting and hopeful climax of the second movie has been torn away violently, turning the Evangelion universe into a lonely dystopia, and bringing the hero, Shinji Ikari, to new depths of guilt. This was an extremely bld decision by Studio Gainax, one which might alienate longtime fans of the series and the movies, but I have to say, they pulled it off. It could have been a disaster, instead its a triumph. And if the character stuff is too much for you, there's also super cool giant robot fights. I have no idea what "Evangelion 4.0" might bring, but it has a lot of weight on its shoulders to finally close up this series. We should all be massively looking forward to that.
10. The Conjuring
I believe in 2013 that various studios and producers released roughly... seven billion horror movies, most of them direct to video. You would have to dedicate your life to the pursuit of covering every horror B-movie made last year if you wanted to accurately proclaim one movie as the Best Horror Movie of 2013. Since I don't have the time or the interest, I'll just take a shortcut and declare "The Conjuring" the best scary movie of that slice of time. And I would be right. This is a truly terrifying movie, a creator of nightmares, not a nightmare a sit-through like most horror movies end up being. What the fuck is that lady in the nurse outfit? Where did she come from? Oh my god, guy, don't walk down the hallway! OH JESUS CHRIST, GET OUT OF THE HOUSE.
9. Inside Llewyn Davis
"Inside Llewyn Davis" is the story of depression more than anything else. Its a circular narrative of a 1961 folk musician dreaming of fame and spreading his art form, and instead being trapped in a cycle of failure, beatings, and rejection. Most Coen Brothers movies end up with the protagonist more or less back right where they started. Llewyn Davis is a tragic hero of the classic type, he could have walked right out of the pages of an early 20th century novel, and nothing would have changed. But despite everything, he remains inspiring, and an impressive artist. The musical interludes of "Inside Llewyn Davis" are just stunning filmmaking, more awe-inspiring than any CG action scene.
8. Before Midnight
Eighteen years ago Richard Linklater showed the world that you could film an entire romantic comedy just by having two characters wander around a European city and talk, with nothing else. No plot, no villain, no comic misunderstanding, just people talking. "Before Midnight" is the third film in his series, continuing the relationship of Jesse and Celine, played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Now they have long been essentially married had several children, but are torn between different goals in life. After fascinating musings on philosophy and existence, they engage in a crushingly violent argument, a perfect recreation of an actual married conflict, as years of resentment and hidden desires come to cross-purposes. This is the best script of the year, as startlingly realistic as it is moving.
7. The World's End
"The World's End" is on the one hand, a comedy about drunken British bloaks smashing their way through a robot army - well, they insist they're not "robots", but we'll call them "robots" for simplicity's sake - that have infected their entire home town. On the other hand, its a character study of a man who has never managed to escape high school, is riddled with addiction, and needs his long ignored best friends to lead him out of his conflict in a twelve step journey across twelve pubs. "The World's End" is charming and funny, like everything Edgar Wright makes, he's easily four for four now across his career, but it also might be his most personal and interesting move. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost play opposite types here from their previous Edgar Wright films, but that doesn't really matter once the beers starts flowing and the punches start throwing. "The World's End" mixes together pure fun and drama well, to the point you'll never notice that these characters are actually really sad, because they're just so entertaining to watch. Its as perfect as a movie experience gets.
6. Blue Jasmine
I was originally on the fence with "Blue Jasmine", but over the last few months I've really come to appreciate this movie as one of the best dramas of the year. Cate Blanchett gives a career best performance as Jasmine, a badly disturbed high society woman who has lost everything, forced to slum it with her lower class relatives in a crampt apartment in San Francisco. Jasmine simply can never catch a break, her mind can barely hold together as she tries to find a new husband to relaunch herself, but the sins of her past will always hold her back. Meanwhile she just cannot comprehend the lifestyle of her sister and her family, she could never adapt to this universe, and she cannot even continue to live in the present, repeatedly fading back into her New York masterful lifestyle. An homage to "A Streetcar Named Desire", "Blue Jasmine" his is one of Woody Allen's best modern works.
5. Iron Man 3
Marvel movies continue to be really inconsistent, sometimes jumping into genius, sometimes turning out like "Thor 2", unworthy of being remembered even a week after release. "Iron Man 3" might be the best movie they've put together, an exciting very entertaining journey through Tony Stark's latest adventure against yet another supervillain. A lot of fans complained about the big reveal with that particular supervillain, but any fanboy cravings should have solved with the amazing action climax, where fifty Iron Man fight super-powered bad guys with flame powers. Yeah, the bad guy wasn't what you expected, but he did breath fire. Robert Downey Jr is as magnetic as ever in and out of his armored suit, I could watch ten movies starring this character and never get tired of it. And when Iron Man rescues the passengers of Air Force One, its a moment of true super heroism, something we did not get in "Man of Steel". I loved this movie, I've seen it three times since it came out, and I'll gladly watch it 300 more times.
4. The Wolf of Wall Street
It has more stupidity than a Jackass movie, more money than Marcus Crassus, and more drug use than a Grateful Dead concert, its "The Wolf of Wall Street", Martin Scorsese's largest and most insane movie ever. High on a mixture of greed and qualuuds, Leonardo DiCaprio creates a financial empire built on broken dreams and bullshit stocks sold to poor ignorant marks. If you took the American and sent it to a strip club with a raging boner and several pounds of cocaine flowing through its system, you'll get "The Wolf of Wall Street". Some have thought this movie glorifies the hedonistic lifestyle of a Wall Street crook, they were not paying attention. The life of this so-called wolf is no better than a rat's, even when he's married to the hottest goddamn woman I have ever seen in my entire life. But what's it worth if you can't even deal with a six hour flight without having to take enough barbiturates to get an elephant high? Scorsese films these Wall Street crooks in the same style that he used for the Italian mafia in "Goodfellas". Because beyond choice in tailor, there is no difference between these worms on society.
"Frozen" has ruled the box office for the past few weeks, even managing to still place into 2014. Why? Because everybody loves "Frozen". If you don't love "Frozen", your heart is several times too small, consider seeing a doctor. For me and thousands of others, the songs from this movie have been playing on constant repeat on Youtube for weeks now, because this is the catchiest and most enjoyable musical achievement of the year. Disney took the Princess narrative and without really needing to change much, created a masterpiece. Do we need an evil witch out in the mountains destroying the world? No, we need a scared girl trying to connect with her sister once again. Do we need a maudlin love story that saves the universe? No, we just need families coming back together. Animation doesn't get better, family entertainment doesn't get better, its just a wonderful movie.
This is the most enrapturing and engaging movie of the entire year, doing something no movie has done to me in years: made my shut up. That little fucker is constantly buzzing, imagining, for example, whether or not "American Hustle" or "The Wolf of Wall Street" should end up on my Best Of List even when I was supposed to be watching that boring shitfest "Her". "Gravity" has been criticized for being too simplistic, as if a movie attempting a brand new form of special effects and telling the story of astronauts lost in space, desperately hopping between space stations is too small for modern audience. I guess what they want is two and a half hours of insanely complicated plotting, including everything and the kitchen sink, and the kitchen sink is going to double cross the heroes. Can't we just appreciate art when we see it? We have one of the best shot movies of the year, with almost no visible cuts, the camera floats along with the actors across the void of space. And it turns out, space is a truly nightmareish place, you are cut off entirely from the life-living orb that is our Earth. This is a stunning experience, and movies this well-made are anything but simple.
But still, that leaves us with the number one movie of the year.
(silly fake trumpet noises)
1. Wolf Children
Honestly, there was no doubt this would be the number 1 movie of the year. "Gravity" was the only movie that came out that even barely approached the same league as "Wolf Children", as they are the only once-in-a-lifetime truely unique artistic achievements that arrived in 2013. Technically this movie was made in 2012, but it was only released here in the United States in 2013, and that was the year I saw it in. Not that it really matters, these lists are little more than nonsense constructs anyway, and due to missing the thousands of movies made around the world, along with all those many more thousands that are made without the backing of major (or even Indie) studios, I've probably only seen half of the truly great movies releases in 2013, if not less. However, with "Wolf Children", I am entirely sure I made the right decision.
Its slightly too long, maybe a bit too dramatic, but "Wolf Children" is one of those great wonders of the cinematic world, perhaps the greatest movie I've ever reviewed in my entire life. Director Mamoru Hosoda, of "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time" fame, creates a fairy tale story, where a single mother must raise two werewolf children in a society that will never understand them. The children must choose between their wolf and human sides, while walking through a world that is so gorgiously animated that you will want to weep at every single frame. The scene of the mother and her toddler pups running through a fresh snow is... goddamn, there are no words for it. I'm getting somewhat emotional just thinking about that. This movie hit me really hard, it was exactly what I needed to see. An inspiring story about family and growing up, motherhood, and life itself. Michael Bay might make movies about mockery and hatred, "Wolf Children" is a movie about love and understanding. "Wolf Children" has everything.
I surprised myself how many movies I picked for the finale that were just terrible downers: "Blue Jasmine", "The Councelor", "Inside Llewyn Davis", they all leave you feeling awful. But I am so glad that for the end, for the number one, I could pick something that left me feeling truly happy.
It is a movie that MUST be seen. There is no choice in the matter. I will evangelize this movie for the rest of my life. Hosoda is no longer a director, he is a prophet, and we must follow his teachings.
So that's the list. Fifteen great movies. Happy 2014.