Every year I go see a bunch of movies in theaters, and the narrative basically goes like this: hit-or-miss action movies and comedies for almost the whole year, and then an intense cram session of all the depressing, critically-acclaimed movies in the last month or two. It must be nice to get screeners or live in New York or Los Angeles. At least things seem to be getting better, with Redbox, Netflix, and other on-demand streaming solutions starting to get smaller movies earlier and earlier, it’s becoming possible to catch up on indies, documentaries, and foreign films before the year is even over. Still, there’s a lot I wish I got to see in 2013, particularly The Act of Killing, which sounds amazing, and Upstream Color, which has been in my Netflix queue forever.
As far as honorable mentions, there are almost too many to count. Neither The Wolf of Wall Street nor American Hustle made my list, although they surely will deservedly win many awards from credible outlets. There were a few smaller films that I really liked, such as Enough Said, Frances Ha, Blue Jasmine, and Side Effects, which could have easily ended up on the back part of this list. There were some good big movies too, like The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, but they weren’t quite up for the list. Also, there’s an awesome Chinese movie on Netflix called Drug War that I really recommend, it’s pretty awesome; like The Wire if it was an amped up, melodramatic action movie. My list, my choices!
There are so many movies that came out last year that are better than the sixth (can you believe that? SIXTH!) Fast and Furious movie, but nothing else was more fun for me to watch. I mean, when I searched for the image for this post, I was reminded just how many jumping scenes there are in Furious 6. And looking at them made me laugh. It’s so goofy and fun. All this series wants you to do is have a good time, and they’ve gotten incredibly capable at delivering that. Grappling hooks, explosions, over-the-top fights, it all just makes me happy to watch. If it doesn’t work for you I totally understand. If you can’t respect it as a work of art, maybe you could teach me to look at the world the way you do. But in one scene in this movie, Vin Diesel lifts up a massive man so Dwayne Johnson can jump punch him in the neck. How can I not be seduced by that? What am I, a monk?
I remember the first half of Captain Phillips being better than the second. The movie starts out as one of the most unique and thrilling heists I’ve ever seen, culminating in a battle of wits between the movie’s dueling captains. Later on it becomes a hostage movie, again in a really interesting setting, but as Greengrass tries to simultaneously show the desperation and tedium on that dingy, the movie got kind of tiring for me. Which had me questioning whether Captain Phillips belongs on my list. But then I really thought about it, about how riveting the movie is and how tricky it must be to make a ripped-from-the-headlines movie like this, and I warmed up to it again. Plus this was like Kevin’s favorite movie of the year, someone’s gotta rep it.
The final entry in the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy is almost as much a celebration of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost’s previous collaborations as it is a send-up of 1970s sci fi movies. These chaps are so fun to watch that this movie could have worked just as a story of old friends going back home for a chance to relive the past. That their night of fun turns into exposing a John Carpenter-esque horrific conspiracy makes it even better, especially with Wright’s increasing aptitude when it comes to inspired action sequences. This is an action comedy that actually has something to say about growing up, nostalgia, and modern culture. It’s also really fun and funny.
Personally, a lot of what I’ll remember of 2013 is the quick decline of both of my midwestern grandparents. My grandfather has rapidly lost his ability to communicate, at this point he is almost always at a loss for words and becomes overwhelmed in most social situations. It’s been hard. So, while I really, really don’t have a Woody and Kate Grant, there was a lot in Nebraska I could relate to. Not that this is as depressing a movie as it might sound, there’s actually a lot of fun to be had in this story about going back home. I mean, that scene with the brothers laughing about how long the drive took was one of the most unexpectedly funny scenes of the whole year.
I watched the whole Before trilogy in one go, which was an interesting experience. It’s been interesting to watch everything about this series grow up in the nine years between each entry. By the time we get to Before Midnight, Jesse and Celine are finally married with children and as talkative as they ever were. And yet, even though they are as close as they’ve ever been, this is the first movie in the franchise to let other characters into the story. Love and life and family, these are great things, but they’re not easy. Jesse and Celine have always known that, but this is the first time they’ve really had to grapple with it. It’s remarkable that movies like this even get made.
You could be reductive and say this is extreme Oscar-bait. After all, 12 Years a Slave has a lot of elements that made 2012’s best picture nominees work. It’s a story about slavery (Lincoln, Django Unchained) in which Canadians save the day (Argo). And that’s a fun game to play but really this movie stands a chance at being the Roots for our generation. It may be the most horrific, blunt, and honest look at our national shame ever. I’m not exactly in a hurry to go see it again, but 12 Years a Slave will be sticking with me for a long time.
As is always the case with the Coens, Inside Llewyn Davis is a beautiful movie full of great music and strong performances and a fair share of ambiguity. They show us the horrible parts of Llewyn’s life, as well as the nice parts which he might not even recognize. They show us him behaving well and behaving badly. But it kinds of up to you to decide if he is an under-appreciated artist or a pretentious jerk. Probably both. It’s always both. Whenever someone gives you a multiple choice question and offers you the chance to pick “all of the above,” do that. Like seriously, of course.
I’ve seen 2001 and Lawrence of Arabia at the Cinerama, and seeing Pacific Rim in DBOX is maybe the best theater-going experience I’ve ever had. I’ve spent my whole life loving basically everything that Guillermo del Toro paid homage to in this movie, and he did all of it justice. Yeah, the plot is intentionally nonsensical and the performances aren’t going to win any awards, but what a joy it is to see this kind of movie given the proper Hollywood treatment. Giant robots, you guys. They rocket punched their way right into my heart.
As soon as I saw it, I thought for sure nothing would top Gravity in 2013. One thing did, but we’ll have to get there in a little bit. First of all, to those people out there complaining about the scientific inaccuracies of this movie: I respect you. Your life must be so hard. I’m glad I’m not one of you, because sometimes I kind of can be. The nonsensical bits of Skyfall ruin that movie for me. Secondly, to the people who see this movie as sexist: I’m sorry. That’s rough. Finally, to everyone else: Wasn’t this a fucking ride?! Holy shit, what a movie! I was so afraid it would be bad! Space! I think space is really cool, but no movie has ever shown how insanely fragile we are up there. Well, maybe The Right Stuff and Apollo 13. Still, neither of those movies were this beautiful.
I feel like I just wrote a big, long thing about how great Her is, so let’s talk about something else: the title. I don’t like it, it’s too simple and it makes it hard to talk about the movie. “I liked Her” sounds weird to say, it’s just setting up all the dads in the world to say “who?” It’s really non-descriptive and doesn’t really get at what the movie is about. Now Frances Ha, that’s a good title. Anyway, Her is pretty great and I can’t wait to argue for it on the podcast this week.