Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Movies of 2013

Well, after a drop in the number of movies seen each year, 2013 saw an increase in viewing. Part of this can be attributed to Netflix, even though they’re usually not very up to date, and part of this can be attributed to more that interested me and, for some reason, more time to see it.

In 2012 I saw only 40 movies, but 2013 saw that jump all the way to 61, although there are some provisos to that number. While normally I track only movies from the current and previous year (to allow for the time it takes some to make it here to the backwoods), this number does include a few from years previous, including one from many years ago. Suitable notation will be made so you know which is which, and why. 46% of the movies I saw were on the big screen, but a crapped-out TV saw us move up to a 55 inch screen in the TV room, so that with a decent surround sound system does help the viewing experience.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, I seem to have only purchased one BluRay during the entire year. I know I would like to start picking up Criterion discs, but have yet to commit to it. Otherwise, most everything I want to watch at home I can find online.

And so, here’s the list. As usual, any movie I saw in the theatre will include an asterisk (*), and if a movie is not from 2013 I will include its year of release. This time out I’m also telling you what in what country it was produced. When you get to the entry about Lore you’ll see why this interested me. As well, this year there are some 2012 movies I won’t rule out of my top 10 list, strictly based on whether or not I even was given the chance to see them in 2013. As a final note, let me remind you I am not a critic, I have a life, and therefore miss a lot of films. So this list is only from my tiny little corner of the world.

*Django Unchained (2012) US - Typical sharp, stylish Tarantino, with plenty of violence and, being a revenge fantasy, loads of improbabilities. Not quite as ahistorical as Inglorious Basterds, and not quite as good, but still enjoyable.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) US - It worked well for what it was, the old comic geek in me appreciated that Gwen Stacey was there at the start instead of Mary Jane Parker, but I do question why it had to be done this way so soon. Still, the hints of the next movie look interesting.

Headhunters (2011) Norway/Germany - A crime thriller with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (of Game of Thrones fame). Tense and smart and I do recommend seeing it before the supposed American remake shows up.

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) US - A small indie film about 3 magazine employees looking to interview the guy who placed an ad seeking a companion for his time traveling. There was a side story I at first question but which ended up being right for the movie, and the ending is almost as perfect as any ending on this list could possibly be.

Seven Psychopaths (2012) US - I didn’t mind it, but it seemed a little too caught up in all its cleverness. Sam Rockwell plays unhinged quite well, but to see him at his best there was another movie this year to watch.

Wreck-It Ralph (2012) US - Absolutely delightful. The voice casting was spot-on, the story heartfelt and the characters and animation tremendous.

*Silver Linings Playbook (2012) US - I enjoy David O. Russell films, and this one was no exception, but I never know exactly where he’s going to take me. I suppose that could be good, but for a movie about two damaged individuals, this one seemed to be fairly tightly controlled. Not antiseptic, but like a story that knew all the beats it had to hit and made sure it landed on them hard.

*Pacific Rim (2013) US - Sue me if you want, but a giant robot vs giant monster movie with shots like the one of Idris Elba coming out of the top of his Jaeger with the sun shining down from behind him like a halo is about nothing but iconography, the images of movies and heroes and our fears, and it did almost everything right.

*Man of Steel (2013) US - Dizzying, numbing, with a disappointing finish. That said, the scenes with Kevin Costner as Pa Kent were real and sometimes heartbreaking. He seems to have reinvented himself, and I hope it holds.

*Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) US - Last year it was Prometheus, this year the movie that made me very angry was this one. “Hello? I know we said we wouldn’t do it because it would mess with history and the time stream, but I’d like to place an intergalactic direct call to the original Spock so he can solve a plot point for me with me having to do any actual, you know, work on the story.” See also: white guy playing a Sikh character. Also see also: Klingons as an afterthought. Also also see also: regurgitating only some parts of an old plot from the series, rather than finding something original. Argh. Now I’m getting angry again.

*Iron Man 3 (2013) US - Comic book geek I may be, but I have no history with the Mandarin, so what happened with his character didn’t bother me. That said, that particular sleight of hand did feel like a bit of a cheat. The good news was this was still a good fun punch/blast ‘em up.

*Mud (2013) US - This movie was a pure wonder. Superb acting, tense filmmaking, a marvelous cast, great dialogue.

*42 (2013) US - A decent sports movie with a unique (for him) turn by Harrison Ford, although at the same time the whole thing is still very much of a piece with almost any other sports movie.

*Room 237 (2013) US - A very strange documentary about people with conspiracy theories and strange beliefs about Stanley Kubrick and The Shining.

*The Shining (1980) UK/US - And while I saw this when it first came to theatres, I include it here because I saw it as a part of a double bill with Room 237. Very nice to be able to see it on the big screen and in that company.

*From Up On Poppy Hill (2013) Japan - Another marvel from Miyazaki. This one was no fantasy, unlike so many of his others, but grounded in the reality of a post-war Japan leading up to the Tokyo Olympics. It delights me to report that this is Brennan’s (who is 14) favourite of all of the Studio Ghibli films.

The Last Stand (2013) US - Schwarzenegger is back, and doing a fine job of making fun of his age and decrepitude while still being a tough guy. A very good actioner.

Mama (2013) Spain/Canada - A decent enough horror film with an ending that just pissed me off no end.

The Bay (2012) US - Barry Levinson, you helped create the greatest TV crime drama of all time, and you did some decent things with this, but found footage? Really? Still, a tense enough thriller/horror flick.

End of Watch (2012) US - A good cop drama, although somewhat episodic, which disturbs the flow a few times.

Premium Rush (2012) US - I was surprised how much I enjoyed this one. The bike-messenger-as-savant trick worked well for me.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) Japan - A lovely little documentary about a top sushi chef in Japan. Well worth watching.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011) UK - The slightest of slight. Enjoyable, I suppose, but it didn’t take me anywhere.

The Hunter (2011) Australia - While the tension was real and the acting tremendous, the conceit, not only of the existence of the thylacine but of why it needed to be killed, was a huge, ridiculous stretch.

*Kon-Tiki (2013) UK/Norway/Denmark/Germany/Sweden - Interesting fact: they filmed this in both English and Norwegian, doing separate takes for each. Good movie, about a story that once captured our hearts and minds but which most of us have forgotten about.

*World War Z (2013) US - A whole lotta stupid going on. Yeah, it was tense and exciting, but so much of that was manufactured in ways that took me out of the picture.

*Trance (2013) UK - A Danny Boyle thriller, which means there are going to be moments of sheer bliss and moments of undeniable silliness as he asks you to buy into things.

*The Way Way Back (2013) US - Outstanding movie. Sam Rockwell deserves an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor. Fun and sweet and moving and peopled with all sorts of interesting characters.

*Much Ado About Nothing (2013) US - Very well done and enjoyable. But now I want to go to Joss Whedon’s house.

*Skull World (2013) Canada - A strange and quirky documentary about a guy who makes armor and weapons of of cardboard and then has battles with others who do the same. Unending childhood, in other words. It came as no surprise to note what his favorite type of music was.

*The World’s End (2013) UK - While not as crazy funny as the previous two Cornetto Trilogy movies (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz), this still worked very well, and even piled on more of the interactions between characters who had forgotten how to get along.

In the Loop (2009) UK - Funnily enough, I was out of the loop on this one, and didn’t even know about it until after James Gandolfini died. Very funny, very dark, and Peter Capaldi (whom I have liked very much since Local Hero) his so brilliant in it.

Oblivion (2013) US - A mediocre Tom Cruise SF movie with a premise that Moon did much better.

Into the White (2012) Norway/Sweden - A decent little film based on a true story, of Luftwaffe and RAF airmen forced to survive together in the Arctic. Rupert Grint, AKA Ronald Weasley, does a convincing Scouse accent.

*In A World (2013) US - I really liked this one, about a young woman trying to break into the male-dominated world of movie trailer narration. Funny and smart.

The Impossible (2012) Spain - Yeah, I know it’s white people suffering in a tragedy while surrounded by many non-white people also suffering, but it is loosely based on a true story. Decent, and it does flip things upside down a bit by having the natives do the rescuing.

*Gravity (2013) USA - Astonishing. This one pinned me to the back of my seat and didn’t let me up. Emotional and thrilling and exhausting, and a second viewing didn’t change any of that for me. There are few films I think 3D are ideal for, but this one was for sure.

This is the End (2013) USA - Funny and at the same time the sort of irritating that only comes from a bunch of guys using frat-boy humor to give each other knowing nods and winks.

Ain’t in it For My Health (2010) USA - An excellent documentary about Levon Helm, once the drummer for The Band, as he lives out the last of his life.

*Nosferatu (1922) Germany - Another event at the Roxy, the local repertory cinema, where they host a fundraiser with a silent movie, music supplied by members of the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. It had been a long time since I’d seen the movie, and I found if I set aside my 21st-century expectations, it still held up.

*Captain Phillips (2013) USA - Tom Hanks does a good job, and the Somali actors (who were not actors before this movie) were wonderful. I know this is one of those “true” stories that is heavily disputed, so I found it easier to watch this as just a fiction. Nice to see a thriller in which the protagonists are not relying on newly-found Rambo skills.

The Sapphires (2013) Australia - It seems obvious that Chris O’Dowd is set to play the same character in every movie he acts in, but I’ll give that he’s clever and likable, even when he isn’t supposed to be likable. Another fact-based movie that messes with the truth in the service of a supposedly better story, it is (mostly) light and good fun.

*12 Years a Slave (2013) USA - Everything good you’ve heard about this movie is true. So hard to watch in so many spots, this is nonetheless an amazing film with some incredible acting.

Monsters University (2013) USA - A lot of very good fun, and it almost recaptures much of what made the original so special. Sadly, there is no character like Boo.

I’m Not Scared (2003) Italy - I watched this based on a recommendation, and am here to tell you it was an astonishing find. Disturbing and tense and a very real look at how children react to outside pressures, this one needs to be watched.

*The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) USA - Good, better than the first, but, as with the book, I find myself disturbed by Katniss’ lack of agency at the end.

*All is Lost (2013) - Robert Redford is a wonder in this, a very quiet and draining movie that works hard to break a lot of conventions. The ending will leave you thinking, too.

Europa Report (2013) USA - A very smart science fiction film with actual, you know, science. Especially astonishing considering how cheaply it was made.

Frances Ha (2012) Netherlands - Not sure why the listing says this is a Dutch film, since it’s all Americans and mostly takes place in New York. Funding, I guess. The title character, as played by Greta Gerwig, is likable and more than a little floundering in her life. A nice story about normal people, with normal lives.

The Trip (2010) Greece - Same deal with place, since this is clearly a UK film. Funny and wry, and now I’m obsessed with Rob Brydon’s Tiny Man Trapped in a Box.

Blackfish (2013) Iceland - A disturbing documentary about captive Orcas, especially Tillikum, and Sea World and the industry it has created and is fighting very hard to hang onto.

*Philomena (2013) USA - But really UK. I liked that this film had some smart, adult things to say about the nature of faith, from both sides of the divide. A fine film.

Stand Off (2011) New Zealand - But really Ireland. Don’t let the poster fool you, this is a clever little film with Brendan Fraser doing what he does well, albeit having aged a bit. Plus, it has Colm Meaney!

*The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) USA - I lost count of the times where this movie played like a video game. But still, I got what I paid for, what I expected, and therefore had a good enough time.

The Short Game (2013) USA - A fun and delightful documentary about young children (7!) at the world championship of golf. You don’t have to be a golf fan to enjoy this.

Oldboy (2003) Korea - Finally. And every bit as disturbing as I’d heard.

Do the Right Thing (1989) USA - Also finally. I can’t believe it took me this long. And Radio Raheem was Robbie from the Raimi Spiderman movies!

Lore (2012) Australia - All in German, about the children of an SS officer trying to get across the country to their grandmother’s house at the end of WW2. But directed by an Australian. Very good movie, and the payoff at the end is extremely powerful.

The Angels’ Share (2012) UK - For director Ken Loach this is something of a trifle, but still an enjoyable one. I of course have a weak spot for anything about single malt.

*American Hustle (2013) USA - Tremendous acting, including a nice surprise appearance, and some of director David O. Russell’s strange little quirks make for a very good movie, but I always feel like he’s reaching when he throws in a happy ending (see: Silver Linings Playbook).

Stories We Tell (2012) Greece - But really Canada. And why the hell couldn’t she find financing here? This documentary, made by Sarah Polley and about the search for her real father, is incredible. There’s a scene near the end when the camera revolves through most of the people involved, focusing in as they think on their lost friend/spouse/mother, heartbreaking not just for what it includes but for what it doesn’t.

I tried to watch Oz the Great and Powerful but couldn’t stomach it. Just awful.

And so to the top 10 of the year. Remember, while this is primarily 2013, if a 2012 movie is included, it's because there was no way for me to see it in its release year. If you have problems with the order of 1 and 2, keep in note that this is strictly because of how the first one hit me. I'm not saying it's a more important film; I'm saying it had a bigger impact on me.

1. Gravity
2. 12 Years a Slave
3. The Way Way Back
4. All is Lost
5. Mud
6. From Up on Poppy Hill 
7. In a World
8. Stories We Tell
9. Lore
10. Frances Ha

ps I made a mistake, forgetting all about Mud and All is Lost, so some movies have been moved around, and American Hustle and The Short Game displaced.


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