It's that time of year again, and what an interesting year it's been for film. At first I was just about ready to write the whole year off after the first two thirds provided a seemingly endless barrage of mediocrity and disappointments, with few bright spots here and there. And to say that this summer was an especially frustrating miss at the theaters would be a huge understatement.
However, just as summer ended and we entered the fall season, the quality followed suit and ended the year in film on a relatively high note. And while there are a few notables that I wasn't able to get to (Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Nebraska haven't released in my town just yet), now I'm here to talk about the best of the best of what I did see in this oddly discombobulated year in movies. But first, here's some honorable mentions for you, listed alphabetically:
Blue is the Warmest Color
White House Down
The World's End
All great movies, and all that were damn close to making my list, but didn't quite make the cut. And on that note, let's starts things off with...
In a year that saw a slew of thrill rides at the movies, none was quite so edge of your seat thrilling as Alfonso Cuarón's technical masterpiece. An absolute marvel in every regard, mesmerizingly shot and with a great performance from Sandra Bullock that'll suck you right in, more than any other movie this year, Gravity is an experience, and one that you absolutely must have.
This movie was a visual feast for the eyes, with stunning shots that'll stick in your head, and a slick editing style that really made it stand out. I've heard people claim Stoker to be little more than style over substance, but what substance there is was substantial enough for my tastes, and the actors all did a great job elevating the material, particularly Mia Wasikowska, who was fantastic in the lead role. This movie could at times be disturbing in nature, and yet the way this film was pieced together more often than not left me more fascinated than disturbed. And speaking of fascinatingly disturbing...
The Wolf of Wall Street
This movie wasn't just disturbing, it was flat out one of the most ridiculous things I have ever seen. And yet, despite being three hours in length, this movie is completely fascinating from start to finish. Never missing a beat and loaded to the brim with outrageous laughs, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, and everyone else involved absolutely kill in this movie. And after being robbed an Oscar nomination last year for his role in Django Unchained, DiCaprio needs to be nominated for his performance here, which quite frankly is his best to date.
I initially walked out saying that this was a great movie that I'm not sure I ever needed to see again, mainly due to its long length. But the more I think about it, the more I think screw it, I wanna see this thing again already! There's so many scenes that are still stuck in my head, though it is still the freshest movie in mind, so it's hard to fairly judge at this point. However, I can already tell that this is probably gonna be my movie that I end up regretting not placing higher up on the end of year list (there's always one or two).
The Frozen Ground
Probably the most surprising movie of the year is also one of the most intense. Nicolas Cage plays it straight this time around, and John Cusack plays against his usual type as well, bringing a convincingly threatening presence to the screen that'll keep your pulse pounding. But the biggest surprise of all comes from Vanessa Hudgens, who proves herself to be a hell of an actress, and one to take seriously, giving among the absolute best female performances of the whole year. Not too many gave this one a chance, and it's a damn shame, 'cause this is certainly one of the better all around movies that went under the radar this year.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Speaking of surprises, I was surprised by just how much I ended up liking this thing, especially considering that I really wasn't looking forward to it at all. But this movie was a huge step up from what I technically named the worst movie of last year (the High Frame Rate version of it, at least!). And while this movie might not technically be the best Lord of the Rings movie to date, it's certainly the most fun, without question. Even the padding and the filler don't take away from the enjoyment to be had here, with exhilarating action scenes, and one of the most satisfyingly haunting endings to a movie that I've ever seen. Just thinking about that ending still gives me chills.
Pain & Gain
Thrillers weren't the only hot ticket this year, we were also in store for an excess of films about American excess, including The Bling Ring, Spring Breakers, and the aforementioned Wolf of Wall Street. But, in my opinion, the best of the bunch that also continues the trend of surprisingly good movies that I wasn't necessarily looking forward to would have to be Pain & Gain.
If you could imagine Michael Bay's version of an arthouse film, then you've got an idea for what this movie has in store for you. It's probably Bay's best film to date, his best since The Rock, at least, and also happens to feature the best performance in the career of The Rock himself, Dwayne Johnson. And Mark Wahlberg is on his A-game, giving his own best performance since The Departed. With a very '90s flair and a self-aware editing style used throughout, this film was a blast. And as you're watching these awful, terrible people doing such awful, terrible things for selfish, personal gain, all the while basically just making it up as they go while their situation only continues to get worse and worse, you just gotta keep reminding yourself that all this absurdly awful, terrible shit actually happened!
This is definitely an unpopular pick, but I can understand why this movie gets hated on. However, I still personally thought this movie was tremendous, and it was even better on a second viewing, in which I was able to pick up on so many of the subtleties strewn all about, and all of those seemingly random scenes made so much more sense and felt altogether more connected in the grand scheme of things.
With a smart, Shakespearean screenplay and a director who has the confidence in both his material as well as his actors to pull it all off in flawless fashion, The Counselor may well be the most underrated movie of the year. Sure, it's not for everyone, but for those who can accept it for what it sets out to be, you'll find that there's a lot to appreciate about this movie.
The best and most intense thriller of the year is one that'll keep you guessing all the way to the very end. Prisoners is a hell of a mystery, one that keeps you in the dark and never leaves you waiting on the characters to play catch up. And this movie definitely goes to some dark places along the way.
Hugh Jackman is just incredible here. As deserving as he was for his Oscar nomination last year, he outdoes that performance and then some with his sheer raw emotional intensity on display in this film.
And Jake Gyllenhaal, too, deserves some recognition for his own phenomenal contributions, playing the increasingly sleep deprived and increasingly desperate detective working the case, and a nice counter to balance out Jackman. Add in a similarly chilling yet satisfying ending as in The Desolation of Smaug, and this movie is one that'll definitely stay with you.
(Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee)
It may not be the most consistent movie, but that doesn't keep it from being one of the best, most stunningly gorgeous works of art I've seen this year. (And besides, in hindsight, I actually found it somewhat fitting that the weakest parts of the film happen to be the songs that deal with "traditional love".)
But when this movie gets it right, oh man does it get it right. I loved the angle this movie takes, how it goes against the grain from what we've typically come to expect from Disney. And while not all the songs may be great, the ones that are are truly some of the best and catchiest numbers to come out of a Disney flick, and are bound to become classics.
"Let It Go", in particular, is hands down the single greatest piece of cinema to release in film all year. Brilliant, beautiful, moving, stunning, these are all words that don't even begin to do that sequence justice. Here, just watch for yourself:
I was kind of alarmed to find out just how many people still haven't seen Tangled as a result of Disney's abysmal mis-marketing of that movie, and it makes me wonder how many will miss out on Frozen as well for the same reason. But if you still haven't seen Tangled, and you're hesitant about Frozen due to the trailers, please ignore the false advertisement for both of these films, which makes them out to be something more akin to the worst kind of Dreamworks picture that would've been relentlessly mocked several years back. These movies are nothing like that, they're a resurgence of classic Disney through and through, and should not be missed.
And now then, my pick for the #1 movie of 2013 is...
Iron Man 3
You're damn right. I wasn't sure if this one was gonna go the distance, but sure enough, come the end of the year, Iron Man 3 is still the best movie I've seen in 2013. And the reason why, for me at least, is because, more so than any other movie this year, Iron Man 3 has balls! (Iron balls!)
I'm not even necessarily that big a fan of the Iron Man series (the first one was good, though it was essentially your standard superhero flick, with nothing especially spectacular about it that makes it stand out among the pack. I have no kind words for Iron Man 2, however), but I still loved this movie all the same. Iron Man 3 wasn't afraid to break the mold and take chances at any given opportunity, becoming something more than just another generic superhero movie in the process.
The whole twist with the villain alone was a huge risk, one that understandably pissed off purist fans, but one that I felt was pulled off to brilliant effect. And the fact that they made an Iron Man movie where Tony Stark spends the majority of the time outside of the actual suit was another big risk, but one that really paid off, while also serving as an answer to the question posed to him by Captain America in The Avengers.
But as much as I appreciated this movie's willingness to takes risks, even more than that, I appreciated the hell out of this movie for its show of creativity throughout. The action scenes in this thing are among the most inventive I've seen, particularly the climactic battle, which was just a whirlwind of imaginative ideas on the screen, and I dug the hell out of all of it.
Alongside Thor: The Dark World, this movie certainly gives me hope for the future installments in these Avenger flicks, as they both show that Marvel is addressing what did and didn't work in the first go-arounds of these Avengers movies and not only fixing them, but improving upon them in leaps and bounds. And as a result, the overall quality and creativity has been amped up to levels previously unseen in the these flicks before now.
This movie just did so much right, and was so much fun all throughout. It's without a doubt the very best Iron Man to date by a large, large margin, and I'm damn near close to calling it the best movie in the Avengers altogether as well (not to mention being the best movie I've seen in 2013!).
So there it is, my Top 10 Movies of 2013. And now, in prior years I would usually follow this post up with my picks for the worst movies I've seen over the year. But this year, well, bad as the year may have started, there really wasn't much that I saw that would warrant such a post. I mean, yeah, there were definitely bad movies, but outside of Catching Fire, there was nothing that actually pissed me off that I can really give a good rant on, so I figured it'd probably make for a somewhat dull post. So instead, this year I'm just gonna list off what I thought were the worst (or at least my least favorite) movies of the year and just leave it at that.
5. G.I. Joe: Retaliation
4. Escape From Tomorrow
3. The Purge
2. To the Wonder
1. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
So there you go. And hell, while we're at it, let's throw some dishonorable mentions at A Good Day to Die Hard, The Hangover: Part III, and Oz The Great and Powerful as well.
And so those are my picks for the best and worst movies of 2013. And that's all I got for ya, so I hope you enjoyed this post, and let me know how you might agree or disagree with my picks, and what your own picks would be.