Time to recap 2013’s cinematic best of the best and some of the rest!
While I saw a lot of great films in 2013, I still haven’t gotten around to a few key titles, such as: All is Lost, Her, Nebraska, American Hustle, Prisoners and Captain Phillips. If I had seen some of these, this list might have changed a bit here and there.
Topping my list this year is Stoker, director Park Chan-wook’s (Oldboy) first American film. Very reminiscent of an old Hitchcock style thriller, Stoker is a modern suspense film done right. There is such a palpable feeling of dread and sexual tension that runs throughout, and the chemistry between Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode only adds to the believability of the insanity you are watching. Every shot in this film is wonderfully composed and if you were to pause it at any given moment, you would have a photograph, it looks that good. Also worth noting is the use of sound design, I have never seen a movie with such an intent focus on exaggerating everyday noises to the point where you’re uncomfortable while watching what should be a normal situation. Stoker is brilliant.
2. The Wolf of Wall Street
Wolf of Wall Street is a cocaine fueled rocket ship, with Martin Scorsese Behind the wheel. For a 71 year old man, he approaches this film with exuberance rarely seen by directors half of his age. His technique is all to familiar if you’ve seen his past works, but here it is honed to razor sharp perfection. The cinematography alone is praise worthy.
Watching DiCaprio grow as an actor over the years has been nothing short of wonderful, he just seems to get better and better with each role he takes. Also worth noting here is Jonah Hill, he’s so smarmy and lovable and he gives the best performance of his career. Matthew McConaughey also has a brief, yet excellent part as a sleazy sage of sorts, which is over the top and ridiculous. Hilarious, brilliantly acted and filmed, Wolf of Wall Street is a must see film for anyone who loves Martin Scorsese movies. Or good film making in general.
3. Out of the Furnace
Out of the furnace is a wonderful, slow burn revenge flick, that focuses on character development in a way which is refreshing and sincere. There are no explosive over the top action sequences, the protagonist is not a perfect person, the love story is honest and brutal…this is a film that feels as grounded in reality as they come. Christian Bale is brilliant here and it’s excellent to see him putting his acting chops on again after spending 10 years as a growling bat. This film is worth the price of admission just for Bale and Zoe Saldana’s scene on the bridge alone.
4. 12 Years a Slave
12 Years a Slave is not an easy film to watch…it is without a doubt the most obscene and honest film in it’s depiction of slavery that has ever been made. Chiwetel Ejiofor is so brilliant in this, that he gives what could be the best performance I have ever seen on screen. On the villainous, side of things, slave owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) is a certifiable nightmare of a human being. The acts of cruelty he administers on his “property” are despicable and cringe worthy. This film is not afraid to show the horrors of slavery and the idiocy of the time it took place in. If anything, this film should serve as a reminder of a dark period of time that we should be grateful is behind humanity.
5. The World’s End
The World’s End is the final film in the amazing “Cornetto Trilogy”, which also includes Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. From a comedic standpoint, The World’s End isn’t the funniest film of the three, but from a film making standpoint, it is easily the best. Underneath all the wonderful robot smashing excellence on display here, is a film about dealing with growing up and letting go. But there is also robot smashing. Lots and lots of robot smashing. Which also has some of the best fight choreography I have seen since The Raid. The World’s End is a film that gets better and better with each screening, and there is nothing better than seeing an average idiot, verbally berate and defeat an advanced intelligence into saying “fuck it”.
6. The Counselor
“I suspect that we are ill-formed for the path we have chosen. Ill-formed and ill-prepared. We would like to draw a veil over all the blood and terror that have brought us to this place. It is our faintness of heart that would close our eyes to all of that, but in so doing it makes of it our destiny… But nothing is crueler than a coward, and the slaughter to come is probably beyond our imagining.” That line pretty much sums up this brilliant, violent, masterpiece of a film written by Cormac McCarthy (No Country For Old Men, The Road) and directed by Ridley Scott. Everybody in this movie is fucked. And it is great to watch it all unfold.
7. Labor Day
I had the pleasure of seeing an early screening of Labor Day at the New Hampshire Film Festival, with the novels writer Joyce Maynard in attendance. She went on stage and briefly spoke about the book, and after hearing her speak about this romantic tale, this was a film I wasn’t expecting to like, let alone make it into my top 10…but, with such strong performances by Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet this flick won me over. There is a simple beauty to this movie, and it makes what would seem to be an implausible love story, entirely plausible. It’s a love story heavily centered on redemption and second chances, and it made this cynical old heart of mine briefly beat for a second.
Ahhh Gravity…how I openly mocked you. How I callously proclaimed that I didn’t want to waste my time seeing a movie about Sandra Bullock floating around in space for 2 hours. How wrong I was. Once I learned that Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men) was Gravity’s director, all the praise this film was receiving peaked my curiosity. Simply put, Gravity is THE defining film for a true cinematic experience. This is a movie that flat out needs to be seen on a 200 foot IMAX screen in 3D. It HAS to. It is mind blowing. I won’t re-watch it on a tv. No LED screen, no matter how large, is going to recreate the experience of seeing Gravity in a theater. If you missed this one, kick yourself now, because once you see this at home with the lights on, there’s a good chance you’ll wonder just what the hell the big deal everybody was talking about. And it was a very praise worthy deal indeed.
Elysium is a worthy follow up to writer/director Neill Blomkamp’s groundbreaking cinematic debut with District 9, and this is a smart piece of original sci-fi through and through. Loaded (a little too heavily some might say) with an underlying theme of universal health care, Elysium is another topical Blomkamp feature worthy of heavy praise. Visually masterful, this film is the perfect blend of practical and cg fx, with a heavy emphasis on unique and original visual design. Elysium also has what could be one of my new favorite movie villains in “Kruger”, played wonderfully by Sharlto Copley. After two really strong films, I can’t wait to see what Blomkamp comes up with next.
10. This is the End
James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson all play an exaggerated version of themselves in “the movie I saw the most in 2013”. I must have gone to see This is the End at least 6 times in the theater, it is an absolutely amazing Franco/McBride follow up to their grossly overlooked 2011 feature, Your Highness. Violent, hilarious and occasionally poignant, This is the End is an instant comedy classic, well worth a spot on any collectors shelf.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Honorable mentions for some honorable films.
Thor The Dark World: Sure, the plot is pretty thin, but Hemsworth is great as the God of Thunder and we finally get off of Earth in this film and into the fantasy space opera that these movies are meant to be. Thor is a lot of fun and much better than the surprisingly disappointing Iron Man 3.
Bullet to the Head: A great 80’s style buddy cop flick, Sylvester Stallone and Sung Kang take on Jason Momoa. Sometimes with axes. Also, Walter Hill directed this. What more could you want?
Dark Skies: Ugh…I couldn’t sleep for two days after watching this movie. It’s terrifying. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but it is excellent.
A Place Beyond the Pines: A really great flick hindered by a weak 3rd chapter, but loaded with great performances.
Evil Dead: BETTER THAN THE ORIGINAL. Fuck all the naysayers.
Trance: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, and a full frontal Rosario Dawson in a hypnotic heist film by Danny Boyle. Nuff said.
Pain and Gain: The biggest surprise to come out of 2013 is a Michael Bay film I actually enjoy. Pain and Gain is a brilliant comedy about a group of idiot body builders. And Dwayne Johnson KILLS IT in this.
The Iceman: A not entirely accurate (but wonderfully acted by Michael Shannon) account on the life of professional killer Richard Kuklinski.
Pacific Rim: Giant robots smash giant monsters in this expensive visual feast. Much like Gravity, Pacific Rim is another “must see on an IMAX screen” flick to warrant a worthwhile screening.
Lovelace: Not quite Boogie Nights, not quite Goodfellas, but feeling similar in style to both, Amanda Seyfried bares all as porn star Linda Lovelace in this portrayal of the “Deepthroat” stars life.
Escape Plan: Basically Lock Up 2013. Also, Arnold Schwarzenegger screams maniacally in German. And Jim Caviezel plays a great villain. This film is amazingly stupid fun.
Europa Report: An incredibly surprising piece of original sci-fi, Europa Report came close to making the top 10. A found footage space flick, with plenty of “fuck outer space” moments. Also a monster.
Well that wraps it up! All in all 2013, was a great year for film lovers and 2014 looks to be just as great! Guardians of the Galaxy anyone?! What say you?
-Sock Talk Jon-