Wednesday, January 22, 2014

2013 Movie Year-End Wrap-Up

It looks like my new schedule (announcing one week after the Oscar nominations) is working out; I've seen my quota of '13 movies.  There was really only one movie that slipped past me in my move to small town America— Philomena (it did play, but I was not settled yet to travel the distance to see it).  But I've got it down now.  They'll be a lot of driving far distances in my future to get to the smaller movies: but it's doable; and most of the big, commercial releases play in town.

30 films vie for my top ten of 2013, which I'll announce tomorrow. As I didn't have over ten films in my "must-sees" this constitutes a weak year, although my must-see/recommended total is much higher over-all then in most years.

As always, I've viewed 60 films this year; below are my one-line commentaries on each:

Must see [8]:

American Hustle. In a way something of a hustle on the audience too, but another dynamite cast and original script from David O. Russell makes it irresistibly entertaining.

Blue Jasmine. Great characterizations and performances, led by a stellar Blanchett.

Enough Said. Adult, funny; Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini lovely in understated performances.

Fruitvale Station. Effective and affective.

Gravity. An event film.

Her. Clever, contemporary; speaks volumes about the human condition.

Hunger Games, The: Catching Fire. Well adapted and produced sequel, only suffers from being a "middle entry."

Hunt, The. Dramatically solid, with some truly heartbreaking moments (if not an easy film to recommend due to subject matter).

Recommended [22]:

42. Not a home run, but a solid double; Harrison Ford scenery-chewing fun to watch.

Before Midnight. Content-wise everything this third installment should have been, admittedly though it comes off as a filmed stage play.

Blackfish. Makes you sad for the whales as much as the human victims.

Captain Phillips. Solid filmmaking with flawless casting.

Dallas Buyers Club. Interesting story is a series of small dramatic beats but no wallops; showy performances.

Despicable Me 2. Irresistibly cute, structurally loose.

Elysium. Good message, but requires quite a few "Independence Day"-like moments of suspension disbelief.

From Up On Poppy Hill. Attractive animation with a nice story— a good movie for a Sunday afternoon.

Frozen. Perfectly pleasant (and Broadway-ready), helped greatly by delightful snowman comic relief character Olaf.

Great Gatsy, The. Not wholly satisfying (Tobey Maguire as a narrator eventually grates), but employs modern filmmaking nicely; Conan look-a-like Joel Edgerton a standout as "Tom Buchanan."

Hijacking, A. Less action-oriented but no less potent than "Captain Phillips"; both films offer some of the best acting of the year.

Identity Thief. A fun mall movie.

Iron Man 3. Manages to update itself just enough to seem original; one of the (very) few franchises for which I would welcome a fourth installment.

Machete Kills. The inspired moments come mostly in the last third and in the promise of a hilarious final installment.

Man of Steel. Well-mounted reboot with great effects, that manages to keep interest despite the necessity of the umpteenth superhero-origin stroy retelling.

Oz The Great and Powerful. Modern backstory is probably as good as could have been hoped for, with a solid story of how Oz came to be.

Saving Mr. Banks. "Prestige picture" of the year gets better as it goes, if never reaching the depth to which it aspires.

Stories We Tell. Warmly told.

This is the End. A fun, crazy little movie, with some admittedly obvious black comedy, that's nonetheless outweighed by the sheer audacity of the plot.

Upstream Color. The narrative is obscure and it's definitely not for all tastes, but it's a film for the 21st century, a bizarre but modern filmic trip.

Warm Bodies. Didn't distinguish itself beyond the clever premise, but worked well within it.

Wolf of Wall Street, The. ... if best seen as a crazy goof, with some entertaining-to-watch performances.

Skippable [27]:

12 Years A Slave. Widely-praised film doesn't get deep enough into characterization and is mostly a series of meant-to-be shock scenes.

Blue Is the Warmest Color. A contemporary love story with a remarkable leading lady is too slight plot-wise for its length, with unnecessarily graphic sex scenes.

Conjuring, The. Good, if not terribly original, old-fashioned spookfest with a nice eye on time & place.

Gangster Squad. Choppy.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. More like Hansel & Gretel: Inept Witch Hunters; if, an OK time waster.

Kings of Summer. Nicely filmed, but underdeveloped.

Lee Daniel's The Butler.  Old-fashioned; lengthy.

Mud. Lengthy story keeps your interest and is buoyed by a young-love romantic subplot, but it fades in the memory.

Nebraska. A little too determined to be a "small" movie.

Olympus Has Fallen. Equally implausible but dramatically better of the two similar '13 releases, the trade off is it's less "popcorn" fun than "White House Down."

Pacific Rim. The conceit was cool, but it was clumsily put together and quite hokey.

Parkland. Inherently interesting story is realistically filmed, but lacking flair.

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters. Pretty derivative this go-round; corny jokes don't help.

Place Beyond the Pines, The. Material that would have been better suited to a novel or miniseries; pay-off just wasn't there.

Prisoners. Somber, lengthy procedural with a bit of a Scooby-Doo ending.

Room 237. Hard to know if it's actually taking the interviewees' thin readings of "The Shining" seriously— but it does suggest that that's the actual point: we bring so much of ourselves into any movie experience.

Short Term 12. Never fully moves you, even if it comes close.

Side Effects. Not a bad little thriller, although I couldn't quite go along with the wrap up.

Spring Breakers. Messy.

Star Trek: Into Darkness. Hooey.

We're the Millers. Kinda inexplicable sleeper hit.

White House Down. Popcorn entertainment has forced plot points, but the set pieces are decent.

Wolverine, The. Bullet train action sequence is nearly enough in itself for a recommendation, but genre mixing is just too odd.

World War Z. Paint-by-numbers.

World's End, The. Original and energetic, but gets far too crazy to drive its meaning home.

Avoid [3]:

Good Day to Die Hard, A. Well, it used to be the perfect franchise.

Hangover, Part III, The. So good.

Instructions Not Included. I have to be honest: it's hopelessly sugary sweet, with a few oddly-timed "telenovela"-like moments.

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