Saturday, February 1, 2014

2013 Movies In Review

The year 2013 has already come and gone, and while I certainly didn't have time to see everything I wanted to, I've got my opinions about what was the most enjoyable experiences in movies for me last year, along with those that weren't quite up to snuff.  Remember this is completely my opinion, I'm not here to be a benchmark for the Oscars or anything like that.

Best Movies of 2013

Honorable Mentions: Despicable Me 2, Side Effects, Admission, The Heat

10.  Thor: The Dark World - While I don't have many issues with this film, I don't think it helps that its villain feels like a second banana to Loki, who we all love, but if you're going to have another big villain, make it a bit more about them (especially when the title eludes to it).  However, the Dark World feels like an improvement over the first Thor and gives us much more Asgard to enjoy.  The supporting cast works great though Stellan Skarsgaard feels a bit underutilized (granted he got to be in Avengers also so no harm there).

9.  Star Trek Into Darkness - While I found the sequel to 2009's fantastic reboot of the Star Trek franchise to be a bit lacking compared to its predecessor, Into Darkness still manages to be a fun and enjoyable film that features a great villain performance by Benedict Cumberbatch.  Yes hiding who he really was turned out to be unnecessary but it doesn't really detract from the film.  Some nifty action sequences and deft comedy (Simon Pegg rules) help this film out quite a bit.  My biggest issue is that the film doesn't feel like it earns its final act in an homage to Wrath of Khan.  At least it wasn't exactly the same but I think it's time that the Star Trek franchise moves on with its own stories.

8.  The World's End - The conclusion to the Cornetto trilogy, this is well themed comedy with great actors, but I found it a bit behind the stellar Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.  Still, it's a lot of fun, has interesting and good messages to tell, and who doesn't love watching these guys on screen together?

7.  Oblivion - It's far from perfect, but it's one of the better Science Fiction/Fantasy films to come out in a while.  Tom Cruise always commands the screen but smart choices were made.  Rather than just throw us into an unrecognizable post-apocalyptic world, there are efforts made to remind us of the lost Earth and what once was, humanizing the characters and landscape.   The story's twists are well done and create a satisfying story that would have been welcome in a Twilight Zone episode (that's high praise).

6.  Saving Mr. Banks - A solidly well told story featuring fantastic actors with the first ever live screen portrayal of Walt Disney?  Yeah I'm there.  The story of how Mary Poppins came to be includes background that might not be expected but isn't unwelcome (plus it's the best role Colin Farrell has played in a long time).  Tom Hanks doesn't really look like Disney but who cares, he's awesome and Emma Thompson nails her role.  The movie is fun and at times heart-wrenching but an interesting tale nonetheless.

5.  The Wolverine - I had low expectations for this film after the complete disaster that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine but this movie took things in a completely different, much better direction.  Instead of making it Wolverine and a dozen mutants, it's so much more about just Wolverine being thrown into a delicate situation, surrounded by (mostly) humans.  This is not a cameo-palooza, this is a well told story that allows room for character development, good action, and general interest to play out.  The third act is indeed comic-booky and detracts a little but I still found it enjoyable.  Plus it makes no mention of the last Wolverine film and the only tie to Last Stand is that of Jean Grey, who fits in nicely to the story.

4.  Frozen - Certainly the best animated film I've seen since Wreck-It Ralph and from the same creators, Frozen has already become a big hit which is commendable because this could have gone wrong in many different ways.  There were cliches that seemed to be coming but never did and the mold was broken several times for Disney tales.  Yes, Let It Go is a great song and Josh Gad brought well timed and clever humor as Olaf the snowman.  This is also a great looking film, as it plays with ice, snow, and all methods of frozen water that seem to dance on the screen.  It may lack a true villain, but the characters define the film well enough that it's not a mark against it.

3.  Man of Steel - Finally, the Superman movie I have been waiting for and yeah this one got really mixed reactions.  Those who loved the Donner films hated this.  Others who scorned the Singer Superman Returns may have had issues with this as well.  For me, this is almost the polar opposite of Superman Returns and that's a good thing.  We get the longest best glimpse into Krypton ever put on film and instead of just living through his entire childhood, we flash back to it when it is relevant to the present day storyline.  Amy Adams makes a great Lois Lane and while we didn't get Luthor, the villains of this movie were just perfect.  Michael Shannon played a truly menacing, yet purposeful Zod and Faora was a force to be reckoned with.  A lot of people shied away from the fight scenes and destruction.  I have been waiting so long to see a true Superman fight and what we got was nothing short of awesome, because this is what would happen if these kinds of forces collided.  Yes Superman isn't perfect, he makes mistakes, he just became Superman after all.  The film might have done better with a little more levity, but all in all, it was a welcome experience.

2.  Iron Man 3 - This movie has gotten a lot of flack from purist comic book fans for its villain twist.  To those people I say, you need to relax and enjoy the movie for what it is.  Comic book films take what they can from the stories but let's be realistic: not everything is going to translate that well and adjustments have to be made.  Plus this is its own universe and interpretation.  That said, the movie might be one of the funniest of the year and still has the thrills and action to keep up.  Guy Pierce makes a great villain and don't get me started on how funny and well acted Ben Kingsley is.  It's a marked improvement over the also-way-too-berated Iron Man 2 and does a good job of picking up where Avengers left off.  Thus far, there is no amount of Robert Downey, Jr. playing Tony Stark that can be considered too much.

1.  Gravity - No other movie this year really blew me away like Gravity did and it helped that I saw it in IMAX 3D, which it was certainly made for.  The story isn't exactly the deepest ever told but the movie does its best to have us care about the few characters we do see.  It is a story of survival and what it means and takes to do so.  It is for me the definition of true Science Fiction (whereas most Sci-Fi is more like Science Fantasy).  Yes some of the things that happen in this movie aren't fully realistic.  Who cares?  It's the execution, the beauty and terror of it, the amazing visuals and desperation.  There are few movies that have ever made me exclaim Holy Shit, and this one did it several times.  For all the things that the movies try to scare us with, it's harder to be more frightening than the idea of being lost in a vast nothingness, with the possibility of no hope for return, and detailing just how difficult life in space can be.

Worst Movies of 2013

5.  We're The Millers - Certainly not the worst comedy of the year but still the worst one I saw.  Jason Sudekis is a lot of fun and while the story is something different, it only hits its beats every so often.  It does an OK job keeping your interest but the premise falls apart fairly quickly and lacks mobility.

4.  This Is The End - I know, this is a well liked film and don't get me wrong, I did enjoy many parts of it, plus I thought the premise was a great idea.  That being said, it went a little over the top for my tastes at times and often became unnecessarily gratuitous or overutilizing of the same joke.  There are moments when it really works though, i.e. Jonah Hill's exorcism is just brilliant and the special effects are well executed, plus the ending is hilarious.  Horror-comedies are a good thing, but this one needed a bit more comedy and a little less dread.

3.  Now You See Me - While an interesting movie because ones about magic often are and a well put together cast, the film is just a series of sequences about characters we never get to know and don't care much about.  It's hard to say who you are supposed to root for because no one is really a bad guy (beyond stealing money) and they all just keep fighting for screen time.  Not to mention that in all likelihood, most of the tricks couldn't actually be done by performers without CGI.

2.  Identity Thief - Jason Bateman, you're killing me.  I like you a lot, Arrested Development was amazing.  But why are you always in bad movies?  Case in point, this movie doesn't have good comedic timing or ideas and barely knows what it wants to be.  It's sort of a road comedy but we never care much about the characters involved and nothing really clicks.

1.  Planes - I didn't see all of this but from what I did, it was not worthy of being a Disney film.  I'm aware Pixar didn't actually make it but I already wasn't a big fan of Cars and this just feels like a lesser TV movie.

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