Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Movies 2013

A bit overdue, but better late than non-existant; 2013 was simply too good a year for movies to let my annual post about them pass by due to my recent laziness and lack of attention to this blog.

Remember, I'm talking about movies, not necessarily films.  Can't remember the difference?  I've spelled it out many a time over the years, the first few paragraphs here are your primer.

Also, disclaimer number 2 - I don't get out too much these days, so I haven't seen a great number of movies like I used to back in the day when I was single.  This is a limited sampling of the year, no doubt.  Also, as I have a kid, my selections are top heavy with family movies.  Thankfully we live in an age of great family entertainment.  On the more grown up tip, I still really want to see World War Z, 42 and Elysium, despite the latter's apparent political idiocy.  I also can't believe I haven't seen Bad Grandpa - no doubt that will rocket to the top of my favorites when I do finally Netflix it.

Before I get to my top ten - here are the runner-ups; there were a lot of them.

Thor 2
Lots of fun, even more-so than the first one.  Took my 9 year old and wife, they both dug it.  Eager to see it again.

Despicable Me 2
Not as fresh as the first, but still a good time and beautifully animated.

Monsters University
Many saw this as an unnecessary rehash.  I enjoyed it, recognizing that it really wasn't something I was dying to see - but understanding that the Pixar wizards still did a remarkable job with such a thin premise.

Captain Phillips
This one almost cracked my top ten - but it encroaches heavily into film territory, and art film territory at that, rather than a straight ahead jingoistic treatise that I would have preferred.  Still, Hanks is a remarkable everyman, and his Somali co-stars are a revelation in truth.  The shaky cam is fairly tortuous, but highly motivated.

Oz the Great and Powerful
I am able to set aside the legacy of the MGM Oz movie and see this fun romp for what it is, a fun romp by Sam Raimi.  The consensus on this one is that Franco is miscast, I would disagree and say he does pretty well as a smarmy and somewhat likable charlatan who gets through his origin story with enough deft aplomb to sustain our interest.  Love the production design, not hung up on the overuse of CGI.  My kid really enjoys it too, so that speaks to something I suppose.

Star Trek: Into Darkness
A blast of a movie - a bit of a come down from the stellar 2009 reboot, but still a rollicking adventure. Ignore that Sherlock Holmes is supposed to be Kahn (and that awful Spock scream) and everything else works just fine. Here's hoping they really take off in the next installment; I'm looking forward to seeing them finally go where no one has gone before.

The Croods
Yet another great animated movie.  There are just so many of them these days.  This is the one that my kid likes the most, so I have to put it here.  What really makes it soar is it's devotion to the value of family as a unit of love; lots to look at and enjoy, it really holds up to repeated viewings - which of course, with a 9 year old in 2014, is how movies are most often viewed.

The Wolverine
After the forgettable first Wolverine movie, this one was a delightfully fun surprise of comic book grit and creativity.  A stunning train sequence highlights this "Logan comes of age" flick.  Did we really need it?  Not especially, but I'm glad I went along for the ride.  It will likely end up sitting on the shelf next to my other X-Men blu rays.

Pacific Rim
Another one that could have easily cracked my top ten - I just love this movie.  It harkens a bit back to Starship Troopers - minus the hyper-violence.  Cheesy dialogue and mostly wooden acting, save the indomitable Idris Elba and the scenery chewing Ron Perlman, are rescued by the deft directorial touches of Guillermo Del Torro who finally delivers on his potential.  This is the ultimate man-in-a-rubber suit spectacle, though nearly entirely CGI, it has more than enough visceral thrills to merit repeat viewings.

Okay - just want to pause here for a second to bring up a movie watching truism - If you have super low expectations, you are bound to be pleasantly surprised.  The next two flicks on my runner-up list were blasted by critics and bombed with audiences; and make no mistake, they are both problematic movies.  But, they are also both full of cool stuff and they both also have plenty of fun moments.  I am happy to recommend both of them, provided you go in thinking that they are going to be total crap.

Jack the Giant Slayer
Zero expectations for this one - pleasantly surprised to find a highly watchable fairytale romp with lots of spectacular set pieces and mountains of creative designs and creatures.  Yes, it could've used a dialogue polish, or two or three, but that said - you could do a lot worse than this fantasy tale.  In fact, we have.  Dragonheart, Lady Hawke, Legend and so on, are all beloved, yet not as well crafted or told as this Brian Singer directed movie.

The Lone Ranger
Hey, it has problems.  It is too long, and the title character is woefully underdeveloped and underplayed by the bland Armie Hammer.  However, The Lone Ranger is a spectacular looking and at times spectacular feeling western that I was pleasantly bowled over by when I saw it on a whim on a Disney cruise.  People forget that Verbinski is a true auteur film maker, and he plays a lot with deeper themes in a visual way, much like Tim Burton, and often what he is getting at is lost by critics and less attentive moviegoers.  I get what he does and I dig it.  This one, believe it or not, is a purchase.

And so those are the ones that didn't make the cut, many of which would make it into my top 10 any other year.  So here we go.

10.   The Wolf of Wall Street
So many people hated this one, I kind of expected to as well, but I have to say - I was thoroughly entertained and never bored despite it's 3 hour running time. (Take notice "American Hustle")  Over the years I have been mystified by people's slavish devotion to Scorcese as a film maker - "Goodfellas" is regularly hailed as one of the greatest movies ever, and I have to say; it's pretty good, but Greatest of All Times?  Meh.  It sure is violent and at times gratuitously so.  This is okay, but I would never hail it or "Casino" (which I think is a better movie) as "wonderful" or "amazing".  They are crisply directed and brutally staged operas of violence - which are mostly over the top enough not to really bother me. (That scene in the cornfield in "Casino" is really rough though....)

Anyways, I'm meandering a bit - but my point is, the outrage that you would think people would have over Marty's gangster movies and their violence apparently was saved up for this rather ludicrous portrayal of a stock trader who has no conscience and and overindulges in sex and drugs.  People, liberals especially I should say, have a deep and seething hatred for Leo's character and the outlandish and non-judgmental portrayal of his excesses.  I personally think this movie is fucking hilarious and very entertaining.  Which are two big qualities I look for in movies.

The shock and indignation of people over the absurdities portrayed in Wolf of Wall Street, these same people who blithely enjoy Joe Pesci putting a guys head in a vice and tightening it until an eyeball flies out, have got their priorities of outrage all mixed up.  Jonah Hill is hilarious, Leo DiCaprio is great and this movie is fierce and outrageous.  I loved it.  And I recognize that life isn't fair and people in fact don't always get their comeuppance - at least not on this earth.  I know truly, that while the real life wolf may think he got away with "living the dream" he has a lot to answer for and absolutely will in the face of his maker.  Gosh I am so glad I am at peace with my faith and my God - saves me a lot of anxious anger at silly things.  And this movie above all is silly - how anyone can look at it and see any kind of truth is baffling to me.

9.   Man of Steel
Speaking of God - this is probably the most obvious tribute to our father in the movies this year.  I absolutely love this classic tale, redone for the 21st century game.  The Reeve movies, and to a lesser extent the Brian Singer tribute, were good for their time; but this is Supes done up right for the new millennium.   Snyder delivers outstanding action set-pieces and a surprisingly deep story with lots of biblical and spiritual themes to chew on.  Love the ending with Zod - and again, my God given clarity of conscience and thought makes this one easy.  Can't wait for the sequel, though part of me wishes they would incorporate Nolan's bat instead of an entirely new one; never mind that it's Daredevil.

8.  Rush
Oh hells yes.  Didn't know I could ever be so fascinated by race car driving, which traditionally I've found about as exciting as soccer.  Apologies of course to my friends who enjoy 90 minutes of not scoring.  Ron Howard brings an amazingly mature and assured hand to weaving the perfect rivalry film - yes, it is a film; but because it's Howard it is grounded in what makes movies great.  Action, a bit of sex that's actually sexy, and two superb performances by actors who inhabit the souls of the real life people they portray.  A fascinating ride that's also a lot of fun, both as a beautiful period piece and an exploration of a different day and age.

7.  The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Much lighter and frothier than the Lord of the Rings saga, still, this journey for me is one well worth taking.  Loved the action and pace, the great production design and VFX; thankfully the story and characters are just good enough to draw me in and hold my interest.  Can't wait for the conclusion.

6.  Catching Fire
Woot woot - the second installment of this surprisingly watchable tale, adapted from the mega-best selling young adult book series, is even better than the first.  With quite a bit more of a modest budget than many of the bigger franchises out there, the writers and director manage to envelope us into a grim dystopian future and still keep us hopeful for our heroine.

5.  Saving Mr. Banks
Much like last years "Flight" - this one is tough to watch for someone who has had alcoholics in their life.  The sequences with Thompson and Hanks are wonderfully sentimental - but the flashbacks are difficult to get through.  Thankfully, the filmmakers manage to bridge the disconnect very well in the end, and provide a satisfying story of hope over disfunction, even a disfunction which never completely recedes.  The real life story of P.L. Travers is quite a bit darker than what is portrayed here, but if I wanted to watch a documentary instead I wouldn't be as big of a movie fan that I am.

4. Frozen
A GREAT Disney movie.  Like "Tangled" - the Disney animation studios have outdone their Pixar brethren again, by a lot.  There's so much to love here, great animation, story, songs and a healthy dose of humor that makes these things so much fun for parents and kids to enjoy together.  Olaf is a revelation - I thought after watching the teaser that he would be lame.  Come to find out, he rocks.  And speaking of rocks - the trolls are great as well.  Lots to savor, not the least of which is the unconventional act of true love that comes to fruition at the movie's end.  A classic for the ages.

3.  Iron Man 3
Simply a great superhero movie.  A fantastic redemption from the uneven Iron Man 2 - this one has a great script and director from Shane Black, a very talented filmmaker in the mold of Tarentino, who is an expert at taking old tropes and making them fresh.  Love the action, love the humor, love Gwyneth Paltrow- and that my friends, is a miracle in movie making.

2. Lone Survivor
The only real film on this list, with the possible exception of "Rush" - this is yet another great military movie.  Like Zero Dark Thirty, my number one movie last year, this one does the troops right and shows it all, the good and the bad, simply the truth - and we are all better for it.  Not easy to watch at times, graphic and unflinching, "Lone Survivor" is in the end a fitting tribute to the courage and sacrifice that our soldiers have made for us in staving off the forces of evil.

1.  Gravity
A game changing movie from one of my favorite directors - Gravity has it all; action, suspense, darkness and hope, all wrapped up in a powerful 90 minute package of mind blowing VFX and a surprisingly potent spiritual component.  With groundbreaking camera techniques and masterful editing, this movie is truly unlike anything you've seen before, and I cannot speak highly enough about it - both from a technical and emotional perspective.  If you haven't seen it - run, don't walk, to your nearest Imax facility before it goes away.  If you do miss it - you can come to my house and watch it on my 55" television from 3 feet away.


Well that's it for the movies in 2013 - overall I have to say there were a lot more movies I loved than movies I didn't .  The one big disappointment for me was "American Hustle" which seemed to be a very unfunny "comedy" that was actually a dour Martin Scorcese-light.  The acting was good, especially Amy Adams who had a much more difficult role than Jenny Lawrence, but overall I just wanted to get away from these people - they were not only unlikable, but not interesting enough to get past that.

As for "12 Years a Slave" - I do want to see it, but I will be fully aware that I'm watching a film, not a movie - as it certainly doesn't look to be entertaining whatsoever.  Ah well.

2014 in movies is already off too an amazing start, as "The Lego Movie" is already firmly ensconced in my top spot!  Here's hoping that something even more amazing will come along to usurp it.