Friday, January 17, 2014

TOP 10 Movie Picks of 2013

I have to say 2013 was by far the hardest year for me to choose my Top 10 favorite films which I share here annually.  As each year passes, movie studios and independent filmmakers learn more and more about how to grab their audience.  Along with this comes the cheap thrills of mindless/flawless action packed CGI which has recently written itself into a circle with destruction porn- hours upon hours of aliens, superheroes and natural disasters trashing landscapes.  Don't get me wrong- it's great but with my list, I'm looking at acting, writing and most importantly if the movie is taking me somewhere I've never been before.  I'm looking for movies which make the hair on my arms stand up, make me blush, make me smile or make me cry.

Of course, along with being moved by films we all get bored to tears sometimes.  The real stinkers this year were the ones which let me down the most.  The Purge was a movie I really looked forward to and in the end loathed.  Set in a society in which all law is suspended for one night a year, it was a promisingly original concept but pulled off in a very generic way.  The same could be said for Now You See Me with painful special effects and a cliche' at every turn.  Maybe most disappointing was World War Z- a very troubled film from the get go.  The entire third portion was re-shot after audiences gave the thumbs down at prescreenings.  I'm not sure what they changed but it couldn't have been more mundane than what was made.  Even zombies on a plane seemed hilariously desperate after sitting through all the gags we've seen for years.  Another movie which didn't bring much to the table (other than Jonah Hill's acting) was The Wolf of Wall Street.  Again, this isn't a bad movie but I'm at a loss as to why Scorsese made it.  It's like a satirical parody of Oliver Stone's Wall Street (1987) which should somehow put us in tune with the downside of greed by taking part in such an overindulgent movie.  I'm in love with the director's work as much as the Academy but it just isn't up to par with the level of achievement other films reached this year.

I could write all day about the honorable mentions scratched down on my list of movies which could have possibly made my Top 10.  A good film I saw early in the year was The Angel's Share at the suggestion of my friend Dan.  It's a must-see endearing story which will touch anyone with a taste for scotch.  Niels Arden Oplev (Swedish director of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy) made his English-language debut with Dead Man Down.  This was a fresh take on the gangster genre with great acting and a truly unique story woven with twists and turns.  I also highly suggest watching Night Train to Lisbon (based on the novel of the same name.)  This European production tells the story of Swiss teacher Raimund Gregorius (Jeremy Irons) who abandons his life to follow the trail of a book which a mysterious woman leaves in his possession.

A good action film worth watching is Rush which covers the famous 1970's Formula 1 rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda.  I don't care the first thing about racing, drivers or car culture but for a couple of hours Ron Howard had me on the edge of my seat!  Lee Daniels' The Butler was another film I had a hard time leaving off the list with a run of solid actors playing the American Presidents through the years to tell the story of The Butler (Forrest Whitaker) against the backdrop of the Civil Right struggle.  In the same vein, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom was an epic portrayal of the African icon.  Idris Elba's performance will be a much looked-over snub from the awards season.  The real biopic of the year is Lovelace though.  The film is uniquely structured in two acts- first through the eyes of the audience and then through Linda's eyes as she's manipulated into the world of pornography.

I save most of my theater money for the geek blockbusters I want to see on the big screen.  Star Trek: Into Darkness was hands-down the best film ever made in the franchise.  It also gave me that much more faith in J.J. Abrams helming the Star Wars empire here in the near future.  Iron Man 3 was a delight and no comic nerd like myself can deny they were giddy with glee watching an entire fleet of Stark's suits battle in the final scenes.  Gravity was visually stunning and I'm only sorry I didn't watch it in the theater (and apparently I'm not alone since it will see another run during the Oscars.)  All of these are great films and just the highlights of why it was so hard to compile my list this year!  Alas- if you're not tired of suggestions already here are my TOP 10 Movie Picks of 2013...

[HONORABLE MENTION] The ABCs of Death (directed by Various Filmmakers)

This pulp movie was quite possible the most fun I had watching a film this year.  Directors from across the globe were each assigned a letter of the alphabet from which to draw a title for their short film.  26 directors and 26 ways to die!  The only prompt or conditions of each submission were the theme of death and the color red to be used in the opening shot.  Since the title of each short is displayed at its end, the natural game of "guess the title" ensues while you watch.  It's a mashup of horror, comedy, animation, claymation- you name it!  Kudos to the creators for such a new concept.  After watching, you'll be delighted as I was to hear a sequel is in the works.

[10] Man of Steel (directed by Zack Snyder)

On the heels of the recent Dark Knight Trilogy, DC wouldn't take "no" for an answer in having Christopher Nolan produce their new Superman franchise.  After what he did with The Watchmen, putting Snyder in the director's chair was a match made in Geek Heaven.   Man of Steel builds upon the tone set by Nolan's films but in a more fantastical way which opens the door to the entire Justice League to enter down the road.  The style is much-critiqued by comic folk as being "joyless" but I couldn't disagree more.  Some of the best comics out there are written for mature audiences with mature artwork.  Also, I have a confession to make- I rewatched this more than any other movie this year (up to four times maybe?)

[09] A Single Shot (directed by David M. Rosenthal)

A Southern Gothic genre has emerged in the Independent realm the past 20 years for which I'm a thankful fan.  Movies like Sling Blade set the wheels in motion as folks applauded the likes of Ain't Them Bodies Saints and Mud this year- all solid films but there's only room for one here.  A single gunshot sets off a chain of events and a game of cat and mouse for John Moon (Sam Rockwell.)  Backed up by wild character-performances by William H. Macy and Jeffrey Wright, this tragedy keeps your imagination at work.  It's dirty, it's dark, it's raw and it's real with nothing polished over for the camera.  The ending of the film is pure poetry as Moon digs himself a hole he can't get out of!

[08] Elysium (directed by Neill Blomkamp)

This South African director is one of my new favorite filmmakers.  His debut full-length feature, District 9 (2009) was absolutely groundbreaking by creating a hyper-realistic Sci-fi style which had a political backbone as the treatment of the aliens symbolized the apartheid.  With his sophomore film, Elysium brought much more of the same (minus the aliens.)  How cool is it that a movie with a space colony and cybernetic suits fused to human beings' bones addresses the political themes of Illegal Immigration, Income Inequality and Universal Healthcare?  Elysium is America and Blomkamp has created a genre all his own.  Having written and directed both of these, I'm terribly anxious to see what he has in store for us next!

[07] Trance (directed by Danny Boyle)

Tell me I didn't cream my knickers when I heard Danny Boyle was directing an Art Heist film!  Of course as far as heists go, nothing makes one more fun than throwing hypnotism into the mix to screw with continuity.  Along with the main character, the viewer also experiences paradigm shifts throughout this maze of a movie.  The actors were actually subjected to hypnotism before production began as preparation for their roles.  This turned out to be a really sexy movie and one of the best Heist films ever created by taking such a different angle.  The entire cast really do the material justice headed up by James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassel.

[06] Prisoners (directed by Denis Villeneuve)

Here is a movie which took a while to get made with directors like Bryan Singer and Antoine Fugua attached at certain points. The script by Aaron Guzikowski is that of a true and brazen thriller which came together quite nicely.  It is the story of two fathers who undertake a vigilante interrogation of the man suspected of abducting their daughters.  At the end of the day, all the characters of the film are prisoners of something whether it be literal, of fear or of themselves.  The contrast of Hugh Jackman's ferocious performance against the haunting subtlety of Paul Dano's has an intense chemistry for the entire cast to build on.  The ending will keep you guessing and rethinking for weeks who the villain really is.

[05] Parkland (directed by Peter Landesman)

Parkland tells the story of the hospital staff and police of Dallas during the tragic events of the JFK assassination.  I feel a lot of folks missed the beauty of this film wanting conspiracy theories addressed. The film provides an insightful contrast of the lives of both JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald by defining of their legacies on the 50th anniversary of the tragedy.  This is done first with the medical staffs' attempts to save both men following their shootings then later with their subsequent funerals.  Each performance is a gem and Paul Giamatti (Abraham Zapruder) had me teared up with his reaction to the President being shot- a small highlight from a thrilling ensemble cast.

[04] 12 Years a Slave  (directed by Steve McQueen)

The world needed to learn of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejofor.)  Also, it had to be made how it was to face the sordid history of how the melting pot began.  In such a fast-paced society, 20 years ago seems like ancient history nevertheless more than a century. In speaking terms of human history though, it was yesterday.  A predominantly British team spearheaded by Steve McQueen translated Solomon Northup's autobiography for the silver screen.  Not a single punch was pulled by the entire cast.  It's one of the most powerful movies I've ever seen and I just don't know if I'll ever be able to watch it again.  It's a painful triumph: painful for Solomon and painful for his audience.

[03] August: Osage County (directed by John Wells)

When I speak of ensemble casts, this movie will always come to mind now.  It is a special experience to be able to laugh at such dramatic and nerve wrenching dialogue.  Every single line of the script is delivered on point from this adaptation of Tracy Letts' play by the same name.  It is very much a movie about letting go and the cast certainly let go with the material.  It's a wonderfully woven story with a few great surprises snuck in the thickness of the drama.  The fight scene showcased on the theatrical poster will grow to be iconic and this film will stand the test of time.

[02] Dallas Buyers Club (directed by Jean-Marc VallĂ©e)

Matthew McConaughey's really taken roles for films he wanted to see made the past two years.  He's not only acting but financing projects such as this one which was in limbo since the mid-90's.  As Ron Woodruff in this 1985 period film, he's really blown the world away not only with his acting but with a loss of 47 pounds to fill the AIDS patient's boots.  His struggle to survive is one of the most relevant stories told in years taking on several aspects of our health care industry.  Of course, Jared Leto (Rayon) also steals the show with a caliber performance befitting any award out there.  He stayed in character during the entire 25 day shoot for his first role nearly six years.

[01] The Place Beyond the Pines (directed by Derek Cianfrance)

It's my opinion this film is nothing short of a masterpiece and the most shunned film of 2013.  Told in three acts, it tells the story of a bank-robbing stunt driver (Ryan Gosling,) the cop who stops him (Bradley Cooper) and the friendship between their sons over a decade later.  The two main characters crash in a collision of fate which changes both their lives and the lives of those around them forever.  The movie deals heavily with not only the relationship between a father and his son but more importantly the legacy passed on to him.  I've never seen a story told in such a sweeping way yet with such grit.  The film's structure is brilliantly borrowed from the stage and applied to a movie with solid action, brilliant acting and harsh drama.

"If you ride like lightning, your're gonna crash like thunder."  
-Robin (Ben Mendelsohn)


  1. As is tradition after your Top 10 movies of the year post, I’ve listed some of my favorites below, along with commentary on what you’ve chosen. This year was a light year for movie watching for me, so I’ve opted for grouping movies together by category, rather than giving them in any particular order.

    All-Around Favorites:
    The Angel’s Share – I found this movie by happy mistake. A heist movie, scotch tasting, and tear jerking phenomena that is not to be missed.
    Trance – One of the most innovative Heist flicks I’ve seen to date. Danny Boyle provides an adrenaline jolt to the chest with the help of a KILLER soundtrack.
    John Dies at the End – “What the hell did I just watch” - is what you’ll be saying at the end of this soon to be cult classic. It is a mix of “Naked Lunch”, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, and “Evil Dead”. This movie left me feeling uncomfortable for days, and I absolutely loved it. Enjoy the soy.
    Dallas Buyers Club – Matthew McConaughey’s performance is one of the finest I’ve seen in a movie (his physical appearance is akin to Christian Bale in “The Machinist”). It makes you forget that you’re watching a movie – and might only be outshined by Jared Leto as “Rayon”. There is a careful line that must be walked between poignant and preachy when making a movie, and this movie does it like no other.
    Jaw-Dropping Special Effects:
    Gravity – Colleen and I saw this in IMAX 3D, and I literally was in tears by the end – not because of the acting or the script, but because it felt like the closest I’ll ever be to going into space. The loneliness, the perspective, the awe inspiring momentum of our world are all wrapped in a mind-boggling choreography of special effects. GO SEE THIS IN THE THEATER.
    Pacific Rim – Godzilla on an acid trip.
    Comedy (Your favorite genre, Brandt!):
    Warm Bodies – A cute date nigh flick for those lovers of the undead.
    Rapture Palooza – I haven’t seen a movie this originally funny since “Idiocracy”. A must see, and another soon to be cult classic.
    The End – A guilty pleasure of a flick, similar in style to “Scary Movie”.
    Europa Report – A Sci-Fi Suspense/Thriller about finding life on Jupiter’s moon.
    The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – This movie stands with some of the best dystopic films I’ve seen from the past 20 years, critics and nay-sayers be damned. Don’t let the teeny-bopper stigma put you off from enjoying this delicious bit of pop goodness.

    Most want to see:
    Kon Tiki
    The Fifth Estate
    Narco Cultura

    And now for a brief WTF:
    Elysium – “Elysium”, as with its predecessor film from Neil Blomkamp “District 9” is another heavy handed science fiction drowned history lesson for the uninitiated. While I can appreciate WHAT these movies are trying to accomplish, I cannot stomach the shit shoveled performances and accessory like nature of the special effects. I barely made it through Elysium, hoping beyond hope that there would be some redemption (as with the final scenes of District 9) for the investment of my time, only to be bitterly disappointed. I feel like Blomkamp throws darts at a lists on a wall to come up with his next big idea. Ughhh!

    1. Thanks as always for sharing your favorites buddy.

      I like what you had to say about Dallas Buyers Club. I have to admit I didn't see most of the comedies you listed (my favorite genre as you put it.) However, This is the End had me in tears with laughter when Aurora and I watched it. It's a really cool "buddy" flick with over-the-top fun. I know you loved Pacific Rim and it was a solid thrill ride which I enjoyed. As far as the Hunger Games franchise, again we've seen this material done much better before (i.e. Battle Royale, Running Man, etc.) The teeny boppers can have their bubble gum version.

      As far as Neil Blomkamp- WTFever man! He's going to have a love/hate relationship with his audience similar to what M. Night Shamalan goes through. So it goes- I love the style all his own and can't wait for more.

    2. Also, I didn't get around to the Fifth Estate either along with Inside Llewyn Davis, All is Lost, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty or Philomena.

  2. Overall I really liked Elysium. I thought the actual action sequences were bland at best, but the best science fiction always touches on what makes us human rather than focusing on all the things that are alien to our current culture. I think Blomkamp (The Ghost of Christmas Future) is basically making these films as an entertaining public service announcement. We are already in the early stages of private sector space flight. I can easily see the world's wealthiest individuals viewing the Earth as a lost cause and building an orbital space station. NASA isn't exactly booming, so if we do get any hardcore innovations it is probably going to come from the private sector.

    1. Thanks for the comment Nick. I agree, Blomkamp doesn't rely on a lot of action to move the story along because he has many thematic issues at hand. He's cutting edge though and as I said in my opening, we're gonna get tired of being desensitized by the "destruction porn" sooner than later. Glad you liked the film.


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