Monday, January 6, 2014

Best Films of 2013

Though 2013 saw many big budgeted failures and fiascoes, even after accepting worldwide totals, there was a surprising new movement of taste among audiences. Genres long though dormant, non-digestible or no longer applicable were major triumphs: Two female police officers repackaged the buddy cop action-comedy; Street-level magicians took the next step beyond The Prestige by mixing the smokes and mirrors with worldwide capers; Horror drew major crowds thanks to legitimate scares and intriguing premises; A simple biopic of a baseball legend returned the majestic nature and rampant turmoil of a diamond-shaped field to the silver screen; Space became frightening again and finally introduced to people that sound doesn't travel; An animal documentary didn't rest on cute creatures to draw attention, but on the harmful effects of corporate thinking and mishandling of human and animal life in theme parks; And, the concert film returned due to the efforts of a funny little man. Even with the blasting rush of disaster porn, there at least was one film that used it to craft an interesting story while also winking to the camera, to make sure the viewer get that the cast is having a grand ole time.

Of course, if there was one major theme among the biggest and finest works of art, it was the plethora of amateur crime. Muscle junkies, thrill-seeking college sisters, a penny stock peddler, and high-schoolers who worship at the church of American Celebrity were the head kingpins in all corners of the map. To make them even more terrorizing, they were nearly all based on the real-life exploits and heinous actions of actual people. The non-condoning structure of said films, along with their strikingly artful flurries of debauchery, made them the most divisive, love-it-or-hate-it movies of the year. Luckily, I was in the former.

But not all of the true shining lights of the cinema had to relish on inappropriate practices to cast a dark light on the American Dream. They instead had the ability to deliver some Broadway charm, the extremities of film theory, a visual picture to nameless voices, or make you think about the debate between universal truth and the law. They could have featured the low budget quality of "putting on a show" by filming in the houses and backyards of the filmmakers or escalate the funding to match the height of a giant robot.

These are the films I have deemed the best of 2013. Though I put them in list format, I was equally entertained and moved by all of these films.

Now comes the usual disclaimer that sadly everyone forgets to remember: This list is of my own opinion, not the general public nor the Internet consensus. If I didn't see the film at all or in its entirety, it isn't counted or considered to be included.


1. Pain & Gain

Michael Bay made the best movie of the year. Michael Bay, a man who has sat atop the worst-of list for his past offenses, was able to masterfully craft a disturbingly amazing crime story, set in the endorphin-driven cesspool of Miami. Enhanced by a mighty ensemble led by the intimidating Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson, and further helped by the backdrops made famous by Michael Mann and Brian De Palma, this movie proved that everybody deserves a second chance in life.

2. Spring Breakers

Speaking of second chances, Harmony Korine was long thought to continue down his non-accessible, extreme film route like Trash Humpers. Instead, through the help of celebrity gossip outlets with the casting of Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, he was able to have his next effort make a big splash in cinemas. It certainly did, due to the blaring nightmare music of Skrillex & Cliff Martinez, Benoît Debie's evocative cinematography, Korine's sleazy yet beautiful direction, and everything about James Franco. The "Look at my shit!" monologue is now included in both pop culture lexicon and acting classes everywhere.

3. Room 237

Is The Shining really about Manifest Destiny? What about the Holocaust? Or how Kubrick faked the moon landing? Should you watch it "backwards and forwards"? Of course, none of these theories make much sense but that doesn't stop this delectable doc from being endlessly watchable.

4. 12 Years a Slave

Director Steve McQueen's finest effort. Every single element is perfection. The direction, the casting, the cinematography, the editing, etc. An hauntingly objective look at one of the darkest times in American history.

5. 20 Feet from Stardom

Why does Janelle Monáe get all the attention for one sentence in a song while others remain in the background? This rip-rolling documentary compiles the many similarities of impressive female black back-up singers who don't always reach the limelight on their own, but still retain a powerful grasp on some of the greatest songs ever made.

6. Gravity

Turn off your cellphones. Don't move out of your seat. Keep quiet. This is one trip you need to experience fully.

7. Frozen

Subtle, this movie is not. Sure to be adapted to Broadway in the future, thanks to its rousing soundtrack, this Disney Animation feature swung a wrecking ball into the conventions of the Disney Princess and had one of the snappiest, shocking scripts to come from the House of Mouse. It may look like the leftovers of Tangled but it at least continued to prove to the public that Disney can now construct better animated features than Pixar. Now that, is truly ice cold.

8. The Wolf of Wall Street

Though it suffers from a rushed editing job and playing out exactly like his previous film Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese took the crown of bad taste last year with this unflinchingly funny overview of Jordan Belfort, a Wall Street stock-broker who played the system to get more money in his pockets than his cilents. An exhausting effort of wall-to-wall depravity, the manic epic held steady by the acting chops of the scenery-chewing, newly physical comedy expert Leonardo DiCaprio.

9. In a World...

Character actress Lake Bell made one of the most charming romantic-comedies of the past decade with this, her debut feature. It also served as one of the best feminist films of the year, casting a light on the voice-over industry and the importance of women to speak as women.

10. Pacific Rim

Sometimes a person just wants to see a giant robot fight a giant monster. One of the most imaginative worlds ever constructed last year, auteur Guillermo del Toro let his kaiju/anime freak flag fly high in the air with this Herculean blockbuster.


11. The Bling Ring

Sofia Coppola brings an artist touch to the true story of a crime wave perpetrated by L.A. teenagers, who easily entered and stole millions of dollars in clothing from the celebrity elite. One of the very few best things Paris Hilton has ever done for humanity.

12. Much Ado About Nothing

Joss Whedon brings a hobby of his to the big screen, to hilarious results. The black & white cinematography and thrilling ensemble severely underlines both the comedic and tragic nature of the Shakespeare play.

13. The Croods

A family movie that is actually very funny and tears at your heart's strings? Dreamworks Animation made it look easy.

14. John Dies at the End

A slightly loose adaptation of the cult book, it still retains many of the quirky features and paradoxes that enamored many looking for eccentricity. You can just watch the opening segment and be driven to discussion.

15. The World's End

Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost unleash the final entry of the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, with this sci-fi based tale of the horrors of nostalgia and alcohol intoxication. The ending is a doozy though.

16. Side Effects

Steven Soderbergh's so-called last movie (I give it a year before he returns), he took us through a nauseating look at the immense power of pharmaceutical companies and handed out a nice modern spin of a Hitchcock flick.

17. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Not as fantastic as the first one in my opinion, but it is still a thrilling installment in the mega-successful YA franchise. One of the few films to actually convey PTSD truthfully.

18. Now You See Me

I always wanted to see a live-action Lupin III movie. Adding in some illusionary tricks and a wonderful cast certainly made it a real treat.

19. Drug War

The most conservative entry on this list, HK auteur Johnnie To made a captivating view on the War of Drugs in China. He also crafted some systemically engineered shootouts, whose enjoyment factor is muted like the audio during them.

20. I Declare War

Boys with their toys imagine themselves as real generals and soldiers in this funny yet chilling indie oddity. Makes you want to take away your children's Call of Duty games post-haste.

Next Up: The Worst Performances of 2013

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