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.