The Best and Worst of 2013

The Best and Worst of 2013

By Danny Minton

Many have accused 2013 of being a lousy year for movies and aside from a few bright spots I’d have to agree.  Many of the big tentpoles, like The Lone Ranger and White House Down, flopped in a big way and there really weren’t that many surprises that took the world by storm once released.  But that doesn’t mean we didn’t have fun at the movies.  While there was disappointment to be found, there were also a lot of thrills, laughs and tears to be had as well.  Starting with my favorite pick of 2013:

1)  Gravity (still in theaters).  Two actors (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) trapped in space for 90 minutes.  Sounds like a frustrating experience, but it turned out to be the best use of 3D technology to date as well as one of the most exciting movies ever made.  I’ve seen it three times now and worked up a sweat each time.  One of my favorite directors, Alfonso Cuaron, proved that he could push the boundaries of what is possible in filmmaking and the result is this fantastic piece of entertainment.

2) 12 Years a Slave (still in theaters). Director Steve McQueen’s vision of a freeman in the 1860’s who is kidnapped and sent to be a slave in Louisiana is one of the most sobering films one can imagine.  And yet rather than becoming a depressing tale, it makes you cheer for its protagonist as if he were in a sports film.  Chiwetel Ejiofor gives his best performance to date and with a supporting cast including Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt and the brilliant newcomer Lupita Nyong’o, the movie is a showcase of acting on par with the terrific directing, writing and production. 

3. The Wolf of Wall Street (in theaters December 25).  I have been back and forth on Scorsese’s newest portrayal of the evils of Wall Street.  On one hand the movie is the most sexually graphic you are ever likely to see on a big screen and the amount of nudity, sex and drugs could be described as excessive.  But then I think Scorsese isn’t trying to exploit here but rather is trying to prove a point.  I do think that this film will set records on people walking out of a motion picture, and likely within the first twenty minutes.  Regardless of its vulgar nature, though, this is one heck of a memorable film and I can easily see Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill getting acting noms while the picture itself racks up tons of other accolades. 

4. Short Term 12 (on DVD and Blu-ray January 14).  Most likely this is the first time you’ve heard of this film about a pair of young adults who work together in a home for struggling teenagers.  But it won’t be the last.  Brie Larson has already earned herself a best actress nom from the Broadcast Film Critics Association, Houston Film Critics Association, as well as many other groups, and could very likely do the same come Oscar time if enough of the voters see it.  This is one of those films that would probably even be a best picture contender if enough folks caught wind of it.  Scoring a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes is nearly impossible but once you sit down with this one for ninety minutes you’ll understand why it is so beloved.  You gotta check this one out – you’ll thank me for it!

5. Fruitvale Station (on DVD and Blu-ray January 14).  With all of the stories we hear about injustices in America, somehow this important tale about a young man who was shot in the back by a cop while handcuffed in an Oakland train station was all but swept under the rug, in spite of several camera phones recording the incident.  Winning both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at Sundance, this film stands to be a major contender this awards season and will be a champion for the need for real justice within our legal system for years to come.  Just be careful – the drama that unfolds here will hit you like a brick. 

6. Captain Phillips (on DVD and Blu-ray January 21).  In this true story, Tom Hanks is captain Phillips, a ship captain who must deal with a group of Somali pirates who have hijacked his boat.  While the acting by Hanks, newcomer Barkhad Abdi and the rest of the talented cast is phenomenal, it’s the direction of Paul Greengrass (United 93) that makes this film feel completely organic.  It helps having a writer like Billy Ray (The Hunger Games) who can lend the enemy an empathetic eye in spite of their malicious tendencies. 

7. Saving Mr. Banks (In Theaters Now).  Tom Hanks shines in another true story about the infamous Walt Disney as he tries to coax P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) into allowing him to make Mary Poppins.  Its easily the best non-animated family film of the year and a real joy for any Disney fan.

8. The Hunt (On DVD and Blu-ray now).  In this Danish import, Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal star and this year’s Best Actor winner at Cannes) is a school teacher whose life is ruined when a very young female student tells a dangerous lie.  Not an easy film to watch, but easily one of the best movies of the year with a performance that will blow you away. 

9. Frozen (In Theaters Now).  Disney’s latest princess movie is yet another fantastic magical trip that will have you singing away on their instantly memorable songs.  And while I never thought I’d say this, it appears Disney is besting their counterpart Pixar now as Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph and Tangled are easily better than Pixar’s Monsters University, Brave and Cars 2.  If it weren’t for Disney’s Planes, I could easily pronounce Disney the crowned champion of animation again. 

10. Pain & Gain (On DVD and Blu-ray Now).  It’s hard for me to believe that a Michael Bay film starring Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson as dumb body builders who commit horrible atrocities to get rich is one of my favorite films of the year, but it most certainly is.  Walking into the theater I knew I would hate the movie and was even coming up with clever quips that I could put into my review.  But then the lights went out and I was won over.  I laughed myself silly and was entertained beyond belief.  It was one of the most enjoyable times I had at the movies in 2013 and after all – isn’t that why we go?

Honorable Mention: About Time, The Conjuring, The Croods, Dallas Buyers Club, The Great Beauty, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Man of Steel, Mud, Narco Cultura, Nebraska, Rush, The Spectacular Now, Stoker, Tim’s Vermeer

The Worst Films of 2013

1. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.  Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi star in what I can only describe as one of the unfunniest comedies in recent memory.  Cringe-worthy and head scratching at every turn.

2. Planes.  Disney’s Cars of the sky film is like one of those horrible knock-off cartoons you see advertised on Netflix. 

3. A Good Day to Die Hard.  After sitting through this crap for almost two miserable hours, I wish McClane would just cut us some slack and finally die hard. 

4. Gangster Squad.  You’d think that a film with this kind of star power could deliver the goods with a decent gangster film, but this squad plays like a bad B-movie.

5. The Hangover, Part III.  While I’m glad they decided not to create an alternate version of the first film, like they did with number 2, this newest and hopefully final edition to the franchise is all dark and no comedy and the actors couldn’t have looked more bored while reading their lines. 

Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks
Starring Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson and Colin Farrell
Directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side)
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including some unsettling images

    Before Walt Disney (Hanks) could make the legendary film Mary Poppins, he had to coax its creator, P.L. Travers (Thompson) to sell him the rights.  The process was an arduous one as she hated the very thought of her books ending up with Disney, but through persistence and a strong sense of vision, Walt was able to convince her, leaving us with one his greatest and most treasured films. 

    I’ve always wanted to see a biopic of one of my biggest heroes, but since that isn’t in the works yet, I’ll gladly settle for this lovely little film about a very unusual story that took place at Disney’s studio years before I was born.  From the opening moments of the film where a solo piano performs the Oscar-winning song Chim Chim Cher-ee to the closing moments with the same hauntingly beautiful motif, the film sets itself apart as a classic. 

    It helps that the story is really interesting.  Apparently P.L. Travers was insanely difficult to work with and Thompson makes you really feel the creative team’s pain.  But at the same time the film goes in a very different direction as they simultaneously show Travers’s own troubled upbringing as  she watches her beloved father (Farrell) drink himself to death.  It’s an all around touching story and while you know the ultimate ending, that doesn’t make it any less fantastic. 

    In addition to Thompson’s incredible performance, the film boasts some other terrific acting including Hanks as Disney, Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak as the legendary Sherman Brothers and a rather unexpected beautiful performance by Paul Giamatti as Disney’s limo driver that befriends Travers. 

    My only real beef with the film is that in the flashback sequences they make a todo about what we can only assume was the inspiration for Mary Poppins in a woman known to the family as Aunt Ellie, played by Rachel Griffiths, that comes to live with the family when the father takes ill.  Honestly, it’s a confusing role that I’m not sure is well enough written to be understood completely.

    But what I really wanted to see was Disney come to life, and here it happened in a big way that I am very pleased with.  And honestly, I can’t think of a better holiday film that you’ll be able to enjoy with your families.  A

New in Home Entertainment – December 17, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

December 17, 2013

Rated R for disturbing content including torture, and language throughout
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

When Hugh Jackman and Terrence Howard discover their daughters have been kidnapped, they track down who they think is the kidnapper and begin to torture him hoping that he will spill the beans on their whereabouts.  Meanwhile, a police officer played by Jake Gyllenhaal is desperately searching for the childrens’ captor hoping to find them while they are still alive.  This is one dark and dismal ride with a good script and great acting.  But you have to be in the mood and its hard to get in the mood for a film like this.  Tough to watch but worth the time invested.  B+

The Lone Ranger
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, and some suggestive material
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Lone Ranger star Armie Hammer blamed the poor box office of this Disney tentpole on critical bullying, but I blame it on just simply not being very good.  Johnny Depp is decent as Tonto, but that doesn’t overcome the problems.  First of all it sells itself as a family-friendly film but it is horribly violent.  Watching a man cutting out another man’s heart and eating it while his henchman watches on like he’s getting off is just sick, even if the deed is mostly just implied.  Some of the action is well-choreographed and fun to watch, and I loved the score by Hans Zimmer, but at two and a half hours, the film is way too long without earning the right to be.  Maybe if they had cut out all of the Tonto sequences where he is an old man, the film might have been tighter and easier to watch, but overall this one is a chore that you’ll want to keep your finger on the fast forward button for.  C-

Kick Ass 2
Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, crude and sexual content, and brief nudity
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Directly following the events of the first film, Kick Ass and Hit Girl are just trying to resume normal lives when a crime spree drives them to be super heroes again.  Joining a small group of vigilantes, including Jim Carey’s ex-mafioso turned born again Christian hero Colonel Stars and Stripes, they must face their arch enemy, whose name I can’t print, in order to stop the epidemic of violence and crime.  I really wanted to love this movie since I adored the first one, but losing writer/director Matthew Vaughn really took the punch out of this franchise.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s still sick and violent, but not in the kick ass way that Kick Ass was.  B-

Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Super Adventure!
Available on DVD

Looking for a good stocking stuffer for the young kids in the family?  Try out this Disney Jr. DVD featuring Mickey Mouse and friends as super heroes as well as 3 other great clubhouse episodes.  Four years ago I would scoff at reviewing something like this, but throw in a toddler who loves both Mickey and super heroes and I get a smile on my face.  Best of all, the program likes to promote learning including mathematics and deductive reasoning.  B+

New in Home Entertainment – December 10, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

December 10, 2013

Despicable Me 2
Rated PG for rude humor and mild action
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

It was surprising when the first Despicable Me scored a $500 million plus world wide gross, but absolutely stunning is the almost billion dollar haul from its sequel.  Back again is Steve Carrell as the voice of the super villain Gru as he works with a secret agency to take down an even worse baddy.  This new installment is not only a cuter film but is a much stronger narrative as well.  The minions are still adorable and their antics are hilarious.  While its not the caliber of films like Frozen and The Croods – it is still entertainment that won’t make the adults watching it want to leave the room.  B+

Fast & Furious 6
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action and mayhem throughout, some sexuality and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

The Fast and Furious gang, including Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and the late Paul Walker are back and this time hired by the government to take down a huge criminal ring.  When it pulled in $786 million at the box office I assumed that big improvements were made to the franchise, which I considered silly and ridiculous.  But I was wrong.  The writing is still horrible, filled with senseless exposition dumbed down for an assumed ADD audience.   The action is nonstop, but the laws of physics are completely thrown aside as are any brains behind them.  What you get it is simply the title: fast and furious action with no thought or intelligent design.  C-

Mary Poppins
Rated G
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Having caught a sneak preview of the new Tom Hanks/Emma Thompson film Saving Mr. Banks, I was in the mood to revisit the Disney classic that inspired it.  Widely considered to be Walt Disney’s crowning achievement, Mary Poppins was nominated for 13 Oscars and won 5 including actress, editing, effects, music and original song.  Now almost 50 years later, the movie still looks amazing thanks to a beautiful digital restoration by the mouse house.  And if you’re like me and haven’t seen it since you were a kid, you, once again, are in for a huge treat.  A

The Brad McMullan Show

When my good friend, former colleague and Emmy-winner Brad McMullan left television a few years ago to start his own business, I must admit that I was blown away.  After all – he is one of the best newscasters I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing on air.  And if you are unfamiliar with him, he is the only victim of Borat who came out smelling like roses in his hit movie.  If you’ve seen the entire footage of the morning show where Borat was being interviewed by Brad, you could tell that Sasha Baron Cohen was getting frustrated because Brad wouldn’t lose his composure.  With a genuine approach to delivering information and none of fake persona that you many times are used to seeing on and off air, Brad looked like he was poised to take over the airwaves.  Well good news – now he’s back!  Brad is now hosting his own show – The Brad McMullan Show which has great potential to be a hit family-friendly talk show in syndication.  With great self-effacing sketches and interviews with local celebrities and sports stars, Brad has found the perfect opportunity to join us in our living rooms once again. 

You can follow Brad on Facebook

You can also download his app on iTunes or Android

New in Home Entertainment – December 3, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

December 3, 2013

Rated PG-13 for some drug content and brief strong language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 26%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Ashton Kutcher stars as the infamous Steve Jobs as he goes from building computers in his garage to starting Apple.  Glossing over some of the most important parts of his life, the script has holes where it can’t afford them.  And while Kutcher and Josh Gad are decent enough as Jobs and Wozniak, the film plays like a movie of the week rather than a big-budget theatrical.  C

The Smurfs 2
Rated PG for some rude humor and action
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 14%
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

The little blue creatures are back as they go to Paris to rescue Smurfette after she has been taken by Gargamel.  While not nearly as terrible as the first Smurfs outing, this new one isn’t all that great either.  It passed the kid test in that my toddler loved it, and the humor was slightly more sophisticated than I expected, but the writing and plot were both lame,  unoriginal and frankly uninteresting.  So if you’re merely looking for a ninety minute baby sitter then I guess you’ll be in luck.  Any more than that expectation and you should be able to accurately predict a smurfing let-down.  C-