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The Top Ten Films of 2013

January 6, 2014

LlewynCat

It feels like more than a year since the last time we posted a year-end Top Ten List! That probably means we’ve been really busy or we’ve watched a ton of films over the last year.  As usual, if I were to combine the 2013 films I’ve yet to see and the ones I’ve seen and still haven’t reviewed, it’d be a long list. That’s just how it is. After a while, you gotta call it and labor over that list. And seeing as how this was an exemplary year at the movies, this list really did involve some time and sweat (not to mention all the last-minute viewing). The end result, between the four of us, has the usual similarities, as well as some odd and unique choices. It’s all subjective, folks.

This is the first year where all of the films I’ve chosen received  a 4-star rating from me.  And there are even a couple of other 4 -star movies that didn’t make the cut. That should tell you what 2013 was like. This is also the first time where some of the films on my list I haven’t been able to review yet, but trust me, you can expect reviews of “Short Term 12”, “Before Midnight” and “Nebraska” soon. Like I said, there comes a time, where you just gotta make your list and be done with it.

The list below is a compilation of the Top Ten Films of 2013 as created by myself, Matt Streets, Tim O’Brien and Mark Pracht. There’s also some Honorable Mentions and the following categories: Biggest Disappointment of the Year, Biggest Surprise of the Year, Most Promising Filmmaker and Most Promising Performer.

Feel free to comment below and chime in with your thoughts on our lists as well as your own selections. Without further ado, enjoy….

 

 

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10. 

 

Mark – SPRINGSTEEN & I

This is a very personal choice, for me. This is a film very much about people like me, who have been touched by, and feel attached to, the music of Bruce Springsteen. The film is filled with compelling, intimate stories, and, while I fully acknowledge that my emotional reaction to this film may not be shared by everyone, it’s my list, and Baillie Walsh’s film earned this spot. (available on DVD & Blu-ray)

Tim – DEAD MAN DOWN

I don’t know exactly why this stylized crime thriller resonated with me so much, but it did. Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Terrence Howard and Dominic Cooper co-star in this ultra-stylish, ultra-dark and cynical story of revenge set against a low-level mobster (Howard) working to ferret out a mole in his crew. The story at times depends far too much on coincidence and luck, but it stuck with me. I loved the dark outlook, that cynicism at every corner. Not much action, but the finale packs a ridiculous punch. It’s good to see Colin Farrell get back to basics, showcasing his tough guy ability. (available on DVD & Blu-ray, currently streaming on Netflix)

Matt – PACIFIC RIM

Pure popcorn glee, watching giant robots pound on giant monsters was the most fun I had in a theater all year; it reminded me of going to see Jurassic Park for the first time as a teenager. (available on DVD & Blu-ray)

David – MUSEUM HOURS

Jem Cohen’s exquisitely shot film is a wonderful slow burn that takes a look at the bond of friendship that develops between Johann (first-time actor, Bobby Sommer), a museum guard at the Kunsthistorisches Art Museum in Vienna, Austria, and Anne (Canadian singer, Mary Margaret O’Hara), a visitor from Montreal. Cohen follows them from the galleries showcasing Bruegel to the non-touristy streets of Vienna, as the two connect on a deep platonic level. Cohen films it  in such a way where each frame feels like a work of art and watching the film is actually quite comparable to people-watching in a museum. Imagine what would happen if two of those people you’d normally find at a museum, two strangers, connect and you have “Museum Hours”. (available on DVD & Blu-ray) 

 

9

 

Mark – ALL IS LOST

A film that surprised me, I went in to the theatre expecting an emotional roller coaster about a man facing death, and instead I found a deeply compelling procedural about a man fighting like mad to live. Robert Redford embodies exactly what is needed here, a strong, competent man doing the right thing at every turn, and finding nature laughing at his efforts. J.C. Chandor also provides some truly beautiful imagery. (still in theaters, available on DVD & Blu-ray on February 11th) 

Tim – GANGSTER SQUAD

I took some abuse for this pick, but you know what? I liked it a lot, even loved parts of this Ruben Fleischer-directed gangster throwback. Playing like a stylized film noir, ‘Squad’ struggled with audiences, with critics and in theaters, but I was entertained throughout. Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling lead an all-star cast, two L.A. cops in the late 1940s working at the head of an off the books squad of specialists working to take down boxer turned mobster Mickey Cohen (hammy Sean Penn). Emma Stone, Nick Nolte, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Pena, Anthony Mackie and Robert Patrick co-star. Let the questioning begin. (available on DVD & Blu-ray)

Matt – PRINCE AVALANCHE 

A small, quiet, quirky existentialist film about two young men (Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch) working on a road crew painting yellow highway lines along a desolate stretch of Texas highway.  Rudd is fantastic, the score is excellent, and overall I found it to be tender, funny and wise. (available on DVD & Blu-Ray, streaming on Netflix) 

David – AMERICAN HUSTLE 

What a crazy ride this was! Co-written and directed by David O. Russell (“The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook”), the electric con dramedy “American Hustle”, boasts an exceptional ensemble cast, including a fun supporting role by Louis C.K. But the women, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, steal the movie from Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner. Those guys have a good time with their roles, specifically Bale, but Adams and Lawrence lose themselves in two uninhibited characters that hold nothing back. The story, loosely based on the ABSCAM sting operation of the late 70s/early 80s zigs and zags from one perspective and time frame to the next, but it’s the performances that turn out to be some of the most entertaining and memorable of the year. (still in theaters) 

 

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8.

 

Mark – PHILOMENA

A film I saw literally hours before completing this list, and one that I found myself genuinely enthralled at the turns the story took as the titular character (Judi Dench) searched for the out-of-wedlock son cruelly stolen from her in the 50’s, by an order of Irish nuns. The film also struck deep, emotionally, as the script brutally exposes not only the hypocrisy of organized Christianity, but the deep grace found within those who truly live their faith. (still in theaters) 

Tim – GRAVITY

Days after watching Alfonso Cuaron’s adrift in space film, I was still thinking about it. Months later, I still don’t look the acting is all it was made out to be, but as a truly visual film, it is stunning. STUNNING. One of the first movies I can remember where 3-D was very much a good thing. Sandra Bullock is a quasi-astronaut working on a space station when a debris shower obliterating the station, leaving Bullock to somehow, some way find a means of survival. George Clooney co-stars. Have you ever wanted to know what being in space is really like? I think this science fiction/space film is as close as any of us will ever get.

Matt – OBLIVION 

The best sci-fi movie of the year was this tense, intelligent and original Tom Cruise feature.  With great special effects, and some solid supporting work, the film holds its cards close, slowly revealing itself over time to a most satisfying ending. (available on DVD & Blu-ray) 

David – THE WOLF OF WALL STREET 

Probably the most audacious and insane movie I’ve seen all year. It’s also one of the most disturbing and frightening movies I watched in 2013, that’s probably because it’s based on reprehensible stockbroker Jordan Belfort’s memoir. Here’s another movie that boasts a stellar cast, with great turns by Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill and Kyle Chandler, with a breakthrough role from Margot Robbie. Yet the lead performance by Leonardo DiCaprio is bold, gutsy and, well, nuts. It’s his best work out of all his collaborations with director Martin Scorsese. The current claims about director Scorsese irresponsibly glorifying the damaging excessive lifestyles the movie covers is unfounded. Where were these people when “Goodfellas” and “Casino” came out? Maybe “Wolf” has received such backlash because someone is too busy counting F-bombs instead of looking up the definition of satire. (still in theaters) 

 

7.

 

Mark – PRISONERS

Sometimes, less is more, and a film that seemed to be sold as a dark meditation on revenge, while it does work effectively on that level, actually found most of it’s power as a compelling mystery. Brimming with great performances, notably Jake Gyllenhaal, who hasn’t been this good since “Zodiac,” and a twisting, turning plot that actually makes sense at the final fade out. It’s a film that makes superior “whodunit” entertainment (for lack of a better word – the film isn’t so much “fun” as it is “riveting”), and then asks you to consider the greater implications of that entertainment. (available on DVD & Blu-ray) 

Tim – CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

Courtesy of The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons among some other duds and quasi-duds, it’s at times easy to forget what a great actor Tom Hanks can be. In this true story, Hanks plays Captain Richard Phillips, the captain of a cargo ship sailing around Africa that is taken over by Somali pirates. This is a powerhouse performance, one of the best I saw this year. He goes toe-to-toe with Muse (Barkhad Abdi), the leader of the pirates in a game of cat and mouse with many lives at stake. An uncomfortable, visceral film that whether or not you know the real-life details, it really doesn’t matter. It is just really good, including an unbelievably tense final 45 minutes. (still in theaters, available on DVD & Blu-ray on January 28th)

Matt – ROOM 237 

My favorite documentary of the year was this bizarre film about the wide range of alternative theories concerning Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film “The Shining”.  Basically, it’s a film about film nerds, and the obsessive attention to detail that they (we) smother on the movies we love.  Did Kubrick help fake the moon landing?  I have no idea, but I loved hearing about it. (available on DVD & Blu-ray and streaming on Netlfix) 

David –  NEBRASKA 

In a year where so many films covered American excess and greed, here’s a film that shows the flipside of the coin. Alexander Payne’s compassionate look at a Midwestern family brought together by a confused and cantankerous old man’s (a great Bruce Dern) obsession with a sweepstakes win, is a funny and sweet look at people we know. Using stark black-and-white that highlights the expressiveness and honesty in the performances, including some fine work by Will Forte and June Squibb, Payne trusts viewers to appreciate the complexities and craziness that comes with family. Emotionally resonant and tender, with one of the best endings of the year (a rare feat), “Nebraska” is a thoughtful and funny film that emphasizes forgiveness and acceptance. (still in theaters)

 

Nebraska

 

6.

 

Mark – NEBRASKA 

My family roots are in Nebraska, and fellow native Alexander Payne has captured something elemental about small-town life. No, it’s not a love letter, and some of the minor performances betray their amateur status, but watching the film felt like taking a trip to places I’ve spent many hours with family. Seeing the place one comes from with both the critical eye of one who got out, and the loving gaze of nostalgia, sometimes in the same shot, is quite an achievement. (still in theaters) 

Tim – 42

The story of one of sports true great heroes, Jackie Robinson is a true American icon. Played here by Chadwick Boseman, Robinson is presented as what he was, a man, flaws and all, not just a whitewashed version of a historical personality. This is not an adoring bio-picture, but a layered, emotional and uncomfortable portrayal of what Robinson did in becoming the first African-American man to play in Major League Baseball. Harrison Ford is a scene-stealer as Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey, Lucas Black co-starring as Dodgers teammate Pee Wee Reese. (available on DVD & Blu-ray)

Matt – PRISONERS 

This gritty crime thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal and an excellent Hugh Jackman was the best movie of its kind since “Zodiac” and “Se7en”.  I found it to be a dark and disturbing examination of the extremes people will go to find the truth, even if it means losing your soul in the process. (available on DVD & Blu-ray) 

David – 12 YEARS A SLAVE

The film people have said they couldn’t bare to watch or couldn’t revisit. I’m glad I did and anticipate catching up with it again. Sure, it’s not an easy film to watch – it’s about a free black man in pre-Civil War who was kidnapped and sold as a slave and remained for – well, you read the title. Therefore, it’s harrowing and disturbing, but the real heartbreak is that this actually happened, since it’s based on Solomon Northrop’s (powerfully played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) memoir. Director Steve McQueen artfully renders one of humanity’s most deplorable atrocities. Of the few emotionally exhausting films released last year, this one had the most brave and heartbreaking performance by Lupito Nyong’o, who was left a slave long after Solomon returned to his family. (still in theaters)

 

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5.

 

Mark – BEFORE MIDNIGHT 

Certainly the most consistently superior, and interesting, “franchise” of films being made currently. Director Richard Linklater, along with his stars, and co-writers, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, continue to mine the painful truths of relationships in their generation. You spend the running time cringing at the brutally honest dialogue and relationships, and then an equal time talking about how it relates to your own life afterward. (available on DVD & Blu-ray) 

Tim – OBLIVION

Beyond the western genre, the science fiction genre is a close second for me in terms of favorites. I had high hopes from this 2013 summer blockbuster, but I came away loving it, loved every minute of it. When science fiction is done right, it’s mysterious and full of tension, this Joseph Kosinski-directed sci-fi film living up to all of those things. Tom Cruise plays a technician in the future left behind on Earth to care for a scorched planet that cannot sustain life. With partner Andrea Riseborough guiding him, Cruise’s Jack Harper begins to suspect he’s not alone. Beautiful, artsy visuals, a great score from M-83 frontman Anthony Gonzales, and a great ending. (available on DVD & Blu-ray)

Matt – FRANCES HA

A charming little gem of a film, co-written by and starring Greta Gerwig as the title character, a twenty-seven year old woman lost in the wilds of Brooklyn.  Gorgeously shot in black and white, “Ha” recalls the heyday of the French new wave with its goofy characters and free-wheeling plot, an absolute joy to watch throughout. (available on DVD & Blu-ray, streaming on Netflix) 

David – SHORT TERM 12 

What kind of title is that?  All I knew going in was that it was receiving nothing but positive word-of-mouth and if there’s anything that can wash the taste of familiar blockbusters out of my cinematic pallet, it’s a fine indie with amazingly natural performances, led by a wonderful Brie Larsen. She runs a facility for at-risk kids (primarily tweens and teens) who are either waiting for a permanent family to live with or awaiting their parents to pick them up for the weekend. The acting by these kids is some of the best you’ll see, period, regardless of age. First-time director Destin Cretton made a heartbreaking and uplifting drama without forcing viewers to feel any specific way, but rather relying on empathy and honesty to connect us to these characters. (available on DVD & Blu-ray on January 14th) 

 

4. 

Mark –  AMERICAN HUSTLE 

One caveat; the 70’s fashion jokes (granted, visual jokes) get beaten to death in this film. It’s an extremely minor qualm I have with a visually striking, powerfully acted, exciting film about the ABSCAM scandal. Every member of this cast is committed and well-cast, and David O. Russell plays them like a symphony. It’s fairly clear that Russell is building an ensemble of actors to return to again and again, and I cannot wait to see where he takes them next. (still in theaters) 

Tim – THIS IS THE END

When I first saw the trailer for this comedy, I figured it would be self-indulgent sludge or a perfectly spot-on comedy. As you may have guessed reading a Top 10 list, it was No. 2, a perfect comedy. A bunch of actors play themselves – James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride – survive some sort of zombie-ridden apocalypse and must band together (or maybe not) to make it through. Too many great set pieces to mention, the formula of stars playing themselves working great as the cast gets a chance to poke some fun at themselves, especially their public personas. Equal parts lowbrow humor mixed with some inspired, smart laughs, this was one of the best comedies I’ve seen in years. (available on DVD & Blu-ray)

Matt – THE SPECTACULAR NOW 

A beautiful examination of an emerging romance between two teens (perfectly played by relative newcomers Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley) “The Spectacular Now” inherits the legacy of John Hughes, and will become a modern generational touchstone for future filmgoers.  (available on DVD & Blu-ray) 

David – BEFORE MIDNIGHT

Last year’s “This is 40” didn’t ring true for this fortysomething reviewer, but writer/director Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight” sure did. I vividly recall sitting in the theater and getting excited at hearing dialogue so accurate, funny and true.  Co-written with the film’s two leads, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, here is the rare sequel that can succeed as a stand alone look at the frustration, struggles and discomfort of marriage in your 40s. Set in Greece and playing like a tragedy, “Before Midnight” makes for one of the most truthful and unrehearsed portraits of a relationship in cinematic history and it just so happens that each film gets better without getting bigger. If these three can keep this up, I’d love to see them return each decade of their fictional lives. (available on DVD & Blu-ray) 

 

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3. 

 

Mark – SOUND CITY 

Dave Grohl is, for my money, the most important figure in music right now. A cheerleader for pure creativity and self-determination in a world of increasingly cookie-cutter, manufactured pop stars. What’s lovely about his directing debut, a fun, quick-witted documentary about the legendary Los Angeles recording studio, is that he maintains that, while also asking his audience to think about what’s been lost as digital technology has made anyone (including many people who simply shouldn’t) able to make records on their laptop. (available on DVD & Blu-ray, currently streaming on Netflix and Amazon Instant)

Tim – THE WAY WAY BACK

Coming of age stories can be a dime a dozen, but this one just gets it right. A retro, throwback feel to the story of 13-year old Duncan (Liam James) who travels with his single mom (Toni Collette) and her new boyfriend (Steve Carell in a-hole mode) to his vacation home on the Atlantic. The message is simple and straightforward, but it works. It’s a fun, emotional, effective and memorable flick, especially with Sam Rockwell’s scene-stealing part as Owen, the owner of a time capsule-like water park where Duncan finds an unlikely second home of sorts. I can’t say enough good things about this one. (available on DVD & Blu-ray)

Matt – NEBRASKA

An old man wants to go to Nebraska to redeem a million dollar check he got in the mail from Publishers Clearing House, and his son indulges him, taking him on a road trip there.  This heartbreaking and ultimately heartwarming film by Alexander Payne (“The Descendants”, “Sideways”) won me over with its loving and detailed examinations of Midwestern life and culture, and with some incredible performances by Bruce Dern and Will Forte.  (still in theaters) 

David – GRAVITY

It felt like I was waiting for the newest Alfonso Cuaron film for years and if each of his film’s can be this breathtaking and groundbreaking, I’d gladly wait just as long for his next film. The director’s use of special effects and technological turns out to be a visual masterpiece. While I understand the criticism around the formulaic screenplay, that’s not where this movie is at. I’ll go to bat for Sandra Bullock’s lead role as an astronaut struggling to survive after space debris leaves her stranded in space. With this and “The Heat”, she’s had a great year. “Gravity” elicits a white-knuckled, gape-mouthed response from the audience in a cinematic experience that returns wonder to the theater – especially in IMAX 3D. Simply put, it’s like no other movie I saw in 2013. (still in theaters, comes to DVD & Blu-ray on February 25th) 

 

2. 

 

Mark – RUSH 

A grown-up thrill ride of a movie, dramatizing the real-life feud between formula one drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl). This is a film that presents two protagonists on equal footing, making each one distinctive and deeply compelling. Time and again, the film has us guessing at who will be the victor, and yet, far more interested in why each man risks his life time and again in competition. The film walks the line expertly. Steeped in the world of the 70’s without feeling like a parody, with Ron Howard’s direction giving each race a visceral thrill that made this the most spectacular visual movie I saw year, save for my number one choice. (available on DVD & Blu-ray on January 28th) 

Tim – FAST & FURIOUS 6

A movie that has an additional layer now with the tragic December death of star Paul Walker. No matter what the background, what stands is one of the best summer blockbusters ever, one action sequence on top of another. It’s fun to look back on where this franchise/series has come from and see where it’s come. These are polished, stylish and really fun movies, Walker, Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot and Gina Carano starring in this Justin Lin-directed action blockbuster, Luke Evans making a memorable villain. This is what movies should be. Epically F-U-N from beginning to end. But really, how long is that airstrip in the finale?!? (available on DVD & Blu-ray)

Matt – THE WOLF OF WALL STREET 

A triumphant return from Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio in this three-hour assault on the senses and decency in general.  A lot has been said about the gratuitous nudity and endless depravity on display here, but by the end what we have is an unflinching examination of drug addiction and the ceaseless desire for money that it engenders.  DiCaprio is flawless, Jonah Hill puts in the best performance of his career, and all the usual Scorsese trademarks are here in what is his best film since “The Aviator”. (still in theaters) 

David – HER

Could you imagine being in the room when this film was first pitched? A lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) in the near-future falls in love with his recently-purchased sentient operating system (voiced by Scarlet Johansson). Writer/director Spike Jonze is definitely not as straightforward as that, but it is as odd and creepy as it sounds, while also being an honest examination of human connection and our use of technology. “Her” is full of questions about what we want and put into a relationship that viewers must answer for themselves. The all-around talent, from lead performance to art direction on display is extraordinary. One can’t help but be deeply moved by this heartfelt story that offers an authentic look at love, despite its conceit. (currently in limited theaters, goes wide on January 10th) 

 

1.

 

Mark – GRAVITY

When I saw the trailer for this film, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that I would love it. Alfonso Cuarón’s film is simply superlative, from script to performances to the excellent and seamless (yet pervasive) CGI effects.  This is what large-scale filmmaking should aspire to. At this point, the film has almost been over-analyzed from a visual standpoint. Any weaknesses the film may have are simply steamrolled by the awesome “you are there” energy of spaceflight and a shockingly possible series of events that leave one woman struggling for her life. (still in theaters, comes to DVD & Blu-ray on February 25th) 

Tim – THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES

A movie that strived to be something more and achieved it on so many levels. A story of fathers and sons, how one decision can alter the lives of countless people in the blink of an eye. Director Derek Cianfrance’s film relies on a non-linear story that defies a conventional storytelling device, and you know what? It works because it is legitimately good, but also because it is trying for something out of the ordinary. Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Bruce Greenwood, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Rose Byrne, Mahershala Ali and Ben Mendelsohn rounding out quite the cast. Especially worth mentioning is composer Mike Patton’s beautiful, trance-like score. I can’t recommend it enough. Even knowing the quasi-twists, it holds up exceptionally well on repeat viewings.

Matt – INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

Loosely based on the life of folksinger Dave Van Ronk, the Coen brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis” follows a week in the life of the titular character (the excellent Oscar Issac), as he attempts to get his solo career off the ground after the death of his songwriting partner.  The film has a deeply melancholic and somber tone, and is perhaps personal for the Coens, as it shows the struggles of an artist against an industry just looking for hits, and in the face of an ignorant and disinterested public.  The soundtrack, produced by the Coens and T Bone Burnett, is sublimely beautiful, and all the music performances are done live in the film, sung by the actors themselves.  This is a quiet, modern masterpiece by the Coens, ranking up there with some of their recent best, and simply the best film of the year. (still in theaters) 

David – INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

The Coen Brothers can jump from one genre to the next and yet still make each film feel like a Coen Brothers film. Not many filmmakers can do that. But “Inside Llewyn Davis” is different from any of their previous films as it’s their most melancholic and depressing film to date. I found myself deeply affected by this tale of a struggling singer in the early 60s Greenwich Village folk scene. Oscar Isaac has the world-weary looks and fine musical chops to lose himself in a lead role we want to root for, but have a hard time doing so. Davis may be a selfish jerk, but he’s dealing with some anguish and challenges that almost justify his behavior. He may have brought on his own pain in life, but that’s just one reason why he’s so relatable. With an exceptional soundtrack, distinctive cinematography and production design, as well as some fine supporting performances, “Inside Llewyn Davis” is funny and sad and worth watching over and over again. (still in theaters) 

 

 

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HONORABLE MENTIONS:

 

Mark – Blue Jasmine, Dallas Buyers Club, August: Osage County, Out of the Furnace, About Time, 42, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Ender’s Game

Tim –

Matt – Dallas Buyers Club, The Worlds End, The Bling Ring, Rush & American Hustle

David – The Act of Killing, All is Lost, Blood Brother, Mud, The Place Beyond the Pines, Pacific Rim, Prisoners, Stoker & The World’s End

 

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR

 

Mark – MAN OF STEEL 

Pretty simple choice, for me. Man of Steel. It’s not that any of the choices in the film, taken on their own, are bad, and some of them (the entire Krypton sequence, for example) are truly exciting and wondrous. It’s that the fundamental feeling that we seek from a “Superman movie” was missing. It’s not that I couldn’t accept that this was a story about Superman becoming SUPERMAN, it’s that I didn’t feel like the character had a solid through line. Or, that director Zach Snyder and screenwriter David Goyer understood what that “Superman feeling” was, at all. Hope, joy, heroism were all forced to the back seat because “he needed to hit something.”

Tim – IRON MAN 3

 Iron Man 3. Maybe it was a hangover from Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, but I thought this trilogy got weaker with each new entry. This supposedly (but probably not) final Iron Man entry was too schizophrenic for its own good. Robert Downey Jr. is again the best thing going, but there is too much goofy action, too much rambling stories, just too much. A major disappointment.

Matt – ELYSIUM 

After the brilliant “District 9, my expectations were very high for this follow-up feature by Neill Blomkamp, but unfortunately I found it to be muddled and ultimately unsatisfying, despite some solid action scenes and nifty weapons tech. Also disappointing: “Out of the Furnace” and “Trance”

David – ONLY GOD FORGIVES

I guess director Nicholas Winding Refn shouldn’t direct his own screenplay. Maybe that’s what happened here. Being a big fan of his last film with Ryan Gosling, “Drive”, I was hoping for something just as stylish and enthralling. Well, “Only God Forgives” definitely is stylish, but it’s also dull and boring.

 

BIGGEST SURPRISE OF THE YEAR 

 

Mark – If you want me to be honest, that I wasn’t all that surprised by any film. Maybe I read too many gossip and movie websites. Oh, yeah, Prisoners and All Is Lost when in directions I didn’t expect, but I haven’t seen a film all year that truly blindsided me in any real way. Maybe next year.

Tim – THE HEAT

Wait a minute…actresses can be funny?!? For those who didn’t pick up on that joke, it’s sarcasm. Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy team up to put a new spin on the buddy cop genre, Bullock the buttoned-down FBI agent, McCarthy the street-wise, street-tough Boston cop who gets the job done, rules be damned. It isn’t a great movie, but you know what it is? It’s funny – really funny at times – and that is a rare commodity of late. There’s nothing wrong with a movie just being funny.
Other (Pleasant) Surprises: World War Z, Pain & Gain, Olympus Has Fallen

Matt – SPRING BREAKERS

Somehow a Harmony Korine directed film starring Selina Gomez and a corn rowed, gangsta-fied James Franco manages to avoid self-parody. Instead, Korine delivers a startling, nightmarish, neon-soaked vision of spring break as a place of bottomless depravity and misguided violence.

David – MUSEUM HOURS

Jem Cohen’s contemplative film about two sixtysomething strangers connecting with each other in an art museum, surprised me in that I didn’t even know it existed until about two weeks before it came to Chicago and how it reminded me how much I appreciate a quiet, slow burn of a film – especially one that appreciates wandering through art galleries  and the distinctive city streets of Vienna, Austria.

 

MOST PROMISING FILMMAKER

 

Mark – SCOTT COOPER 

While “Out of the Furnace” had problems on a script level, I still was compelled and excited by much of the film. What it did have was a continuation of the lived-in feel, and nuanced performances, that distinguished Cooper’s last movie, “Crazy Heart”. I cannot wait to see what he does next.

Tim – NAT FAXON & JIM RASH

Co-writing, directing and playing supporting roles in this coming of age film, Faxon and Rash did so with a movie that clearly meant something to both of them. Familiar faces in any number of movies and television shows, they made their directorial debut with “The Way Way Back” and didn’t disappoint. Together or on their own, I look forward to what they are working on next.

Matt – JAMES PONSOLDT 

James Ponsoldt made his major film debut with 2012’s overlooked “Smashed” and followed it up with the fantastic “The Spectacular Now” in 2013.  As a director, he seems able to handle his actors quite well and uses long, extended takes to give conversations and dialogue a more natural and realistic flow.

David – DESTIN CRETTON

For his first feature-film, director Destin Cretton floored me with his honest and raw look at the lives of those who live  and run an at-risk home. For a film that dealt with some heavy and tender emotions, nothing about “Short Term 12” feels forced or pretentious.  Cretton landed a great cast, but he shines such a stark and careful light on their characters that you almost feel like these aren’t actors and you’re watching a documentary.

 

MOST PROMISING PERFORMER 

 

Mark – MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY

This might seem like a cop-out, picking an actor who’s been around for over a decade, but 2013 has been a hell of a year for McConaughey. Reinventing himself completely, coming out of a bad romantic comedy ghetto, where he never seemed comfortable, with great performance after great performance. Between “Mud” and “Dallas Buyer’s Club”, I cannot wait to see what he does next.

Tim – ASA BUTTERFIELD

“Ender’s Game”’s Asa Butterfield. I didn’t love this science fiction flick, but Butterfield’s performance was very impressive. The 16-year old actor owned the lead part as Ender Wiggins, a young boy who could hold the key to Earth’s success in the near future with an alien invasion seemingly imminent. I look forward to seeing where and what Butterfield does next.

Matt – OSCAR ISAAC

Despite a few small roles in movies like “Drive”, “Body of Lies” and “Che”, it was Oscar Issac’s star-making turn as the title character in “Inside Llewyn Davis” that will put this actor on the map.  Aside from learning how to play acoustic guitar, and singing all of his own songs in the films, Issac perfectly captured the frustrations and tribulations of a struggling artist in this award-worthy performance. Runner-Up: Miles Teller (“The Spectacular Now”)

David – Adèle Exarchopoulos

This 20 year-old French actress bared it all in the controversial French film, “Blue is the Warmest Color”.  No, I’m not just referring to her nudity or unnecessarily extensive sex scenes she has with actress  Léa Seydoux, I’m talking about the impressive range of emotion on display here. Often times,  Exarchopoulos doesn’t even have to speak here – you can tell what she feels in the way she looks at others, in a quiver of her lip or the heartbreak in her eyes.

 

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We’ll still be reviewing films from 2013, of course, but most of all we’re anticipating another great year at the movies.

 

 

 

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Matt permalink
    January 6, 2014 10:57 am

    Excellent lists guys!! And Tim, don’t take any grief for “Gangster Squad”, it was totally enjoyable, if sort of ludricrous at times. In fact, I will officially add it to my “honorable mentions” category!

  2. January 6, 2014 10:58 am

    Great lists guys! And Tim, don’t take any grief for liking “Gangster Squad”, I found it to be quite enjoyable, if sort of ludicrous at times. In fact, I will officially add it to my “honorable mentions” category!

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