And lo, just like that 2013 ended in a frenzied explosion of dragons and drugs. A year that increasingly got bloated under the sheer weight of the summer blockbuster frenzy, almost inducing viewer fatigue. A year that pretty much solidified that sequels and superheroes are likely to dominate box offices for quite some years ahead, especially given the not-so-great performances of original content (of course, it didn’t help that some of the original fare were just execrably bad, Cough *After Earth* Cough). This was also the year that proved that destruction of the Earth remains a fairly viable movie proposition (and not in real life of course). 3D still remains a money grab proposition with most movies hardly making use of 3D to supplement the story experience and instead using it more as a gimmick (Gravity and Pacific Rim being obvious exceptions). Finally, this was also the year that truly cemented the Marvel juggernaut. A juggernaut that increasingly is forcing other studios to jumpstart their own shared universes so as to not get left behind (DC’s painfully rushed attempt at the long planned Justice League movie and Sony’s own attempt towards a Spiderman shared universe)
With over half the year spent in the US, especially during the summer time, my movie viewing experience was fairly peaceful. Barring for a few movie, one rarely has to book tickets in advance and could just walk in to watch a movie even if it’s a new release. Picking out a list of top movies from all the movies watched is quite an exercise especially when one has to compare across genres. There are some obvious parameters like story, plotting, acting etc but then there is the one other important aspect which is typically given a short shrift when it comes to ranking top movies by critics (snobs!), which is the fun and sheer entertainment aspect of the movie. While movies do have a responsibility to serve as a window to our past, present and future and also educate if possible, the primary purpose of movies still remains that the audience have a good time. And that is something that usually gets lost when any top movie ranking list is prepared. In the same approach as last year, below are the top movies of 2013 (in no particular order)
1. American Hustle: Bringing together the acclaimed cast comprising of actors from his previous award winning movies (Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook), David O Russell crafts a fine movie that avoids the pitfalls of Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook and works brilliantly. The movie is predominantly about the characters and each one trying to hustle the other (except for poor Jeremy Renner). Strong performances from the cast truly drive this movie; Bale as the hustler with the heart of gold, Amy Adams as a hustler who would do anything to survive, Bradley Cooper as the relentless, ruthless FBI agent, Jeremy Renner as the mayor who does not mind breaking/ bending the laws if it helps his constituents and Jennifer Lawrence as the true wild card, scaring everyone. This period film with all its wigs, costumers and music is quite humorous (if darkly) and frankly, very entertaining (even if you see the ending coming)
2. Gravity: As folks would know, I am not a fan of 3D. It’s just a money grab proposition and nothing else. However, 3D if done properly, is quite an awesome experience and the first 15 mins of Gravity remains one of the best movie moments of the year. Watching Sandra Bullock spiraling in space, your heart beat escalates and you (almost) forget that this is a movie. Gravity is a sheer triumph of what technology can achieve in film making and as well as, how the real deal lies not in blowing up stuff but in how you blow up the stuff. A survival tale, Alfonso Cuaron’s real triumph is making you feel claustrophobic in a movie set in space
3. Rush: A big screen retelling of the epic 1976 formula 1 rivalry between James Hunt & Niki Lauda, Rush is a heart-pounding, adrenaline-driven comparison of the rivals who were complete contrasts to one another. The trailers focus a lot on Chris Hemsworth, playing up his good looks and the daredevil attitude but the movie does a far better job of focusing equally on both the characters. Daniel Bruhl portrayed as the rat-faced Lauda does get his fair share of screen time and quips. The movie does a fine job of not being judgemental or portraying either of the characters as hero or villain and therein lies its greatest achievements.
4. Prisoners: You know what they say that there are no new stories, just new ways of telling stories. Denis Villeneuve, takes a Taken-like situation (Angry dad, hunting for his kidnapped daughter, takes the law in his own hands going after the kidnappers) and creates a movie that is deeply uncomfortable. While you cheer for Liam Neeson as he trashes Paris, in Prisoners, you bear an uncomfortable disturbed silence as you watch Hugh Jackman torture Paul Dano to find out where his daughter is. A sense of dread pervades the movie even as you start feeling conflicted towards the happening on the screen. Hugh Jackman is quite brilliant (seeming angrier than any of his Wolverine movies) and Jack Gyllenhall presents an intriguing detective names Loki with his tattoos and nervous tics that increase as the movie goes on. A complex, complicated movie that forces you to ask uncomfortable questions
5. Pacific Rim: This is a movie for your inner 12 year old. Granted that the movie suffers from a complete lack of surprise in the story (or as remarked, a story itself), some annoying characters, general clunky, cringe-worthy dialog (“Today, we are cancelling the apocalypse”), all of which do not make a difference as you watch giant robots (called Jaegers) slugging it out with ginormous lizard like creatures (called Kaiju). Fantastically shot, Guillermo Del Toro brings about all the love and affection that he has for the old robot-monster fighting movies. Each set piece is bigger than the previous one and there is a particular jaw-dropping moment when one of the Kaiju unveils an enormous pair of wings and drags a Jaeger upwards into the sky. A rousing, pulsating score from Ramin Djawedi and a fun cameo from Ron Perlman helps distract attention from the absolutely wooden performance of Charlie Hunnam. It also must be said that Idris Elba carries the movie with gravitas (and the name Stacker Pentecost is among the coolest names that I have come across)
6. 12 Years a Slave: While Django Unchained was a typical Tarantino twist on slavery, 12 Years a Slave paints a harrowing picture of slavery. Brutal and unflinching, made all the more remarkable as this is based on a true story, 12 Years a Slave is an uncompromising take and told poignantly in just over 2 hours. A remarkable performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor and supported brilliantly by Michael Fassbender and Benedict Cumberbatch, Steve McQueen should be among the frontrunners this award season for this terrific movie
7. All is Lost: If one strips Gravity of all its special effects, dialogs and the back-story, the movie you would get is All is Lost. Featuring a one man cast of Robert Redford who is adrift in the Indian Ocean as his boat develops a leak following a collision with a shipping container; it’s a story of survival. We do not know the name of Redford’s character nor his backstory. All that we want is for him to survive as he faces the elements. Redford’s character does all to survive braving all the hardships that comes his way but things turn bleak fairly quickly. JC Chandor is fast becoming a hot shot director with his 2nd impressive movie after Margin Call. Robert Redford’s gives quite a performance with barely a few sentences of dialogs and in fact, one of the most powerful moments in the movie is when he yells an heartfelt invective as all things go bad
8. Iron Man 3: In an age where superhero movies are becoming angst-filled and going dark, Marvel Studios are bucking the trend and making movies that are fun (even if they have darker aspects to it). How does one make a super hero follow up to Avengers? Simply, by not making a super hero movie. Iron Man 3 is more of an action thriller movie rather than just a superhero movie of saving the world when all is at stake. An exploration of what Tony Stark is without the suit, Iron Man 3 addresses some of the major pain points of the prior 2 Iron Man movies, (notably a coherent 3rd act). RDJ remains as snarky as ever and owns the role (even if it’s not sure if he will return for an Iron Man 4). While there has been a fair amount of online outrage of the identity of the Mandarin, it was definitely one of those plot twists that stayed away from the constantly buzzing internet spoiler boards. As always, Iron Man’s suits are simply awesome and it’s definitely cool to see how the suits have constantly evolved from the 1st movie. A fun summer movie without a lot of superhero angst.
9. The World’s End: The concluding part of the Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s Blood and Icecream Trilogy, The World’s end is a worthy successor to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Subverting cinematic tropes like the previous 2 movies, The World’s End is about a bunch of friends reuniting to complete a 12 pub crawl that they did not complete when they were kids. And as things go, there is an entire world of weirdness in store for them as they discover an alien invasion paving the way for laughs and action through the course of the movie. Simon Pegg indeed has one of characters of the year with the refuse-to-grow Gary King who wants to relive his best days while the others are quite reluctant as they had grown up and moved on. Gary King is one of the saddest characters to be encountered this year despite all the outside bluster. And yes, the Cornetto wrapper makes its customary appearance as does falling over the fence.
10. This is the End: Another apocalyptic comedy, another ensemble cast feature and another awesome movie. This one stars James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride among a host of other Hollywood celebrities, all playing grossly exaggerated caricatures of themselves facing an apocalypse that devastates LA and forces them to band together to survive. And boy o boy, this is the last group anyone would want to be part of, when one has to survive. A bunch of spoilt prima donnas, each person’s worst character comes out rather easily as they try to survive and the group isn’t afraid to take digs at each other during the course of the movie. Irreverent, wildly and wickedly humorous, it thoroughly deserves its R rating. Watch out for all the celebrity cameos including one at the very end that was completely left field. (Watching the movie, one does have a question if Danny McBride is really that obnoxious in real life or just that all his characters are be it Thadeous in Your Highness or Kenny Powers in Eastbound & Down)
Movies that almost made it
1. Now You See Me: You know there are some movies that if you leave your brain behind and just go with the flow, you will have a great time. Now you see me fits that category perfectly. A fun caper thriller, the movie has an electric pace and as an audience, you go with that flow and it’s only when you step out and try to think about it, you realize that it quite did not make as much sense as it did. But for those 2 hours, you are thoroughly entertained and involved due to the pace of the movie as there is literally no breathing time during the movie
2. Wolf of Wall Street: A movie based on the life of Jordan Belfort, the titular Wolf of Wall Street and brought to life on screen by DiCaprio and helmed by Scorcese, this is a movie that celebrates the giddy excesses and highs of Jordan Belfort and his cronies making money in not so legal ways. A non-stop high ride, this is a movie that pushes the envelope constantly and what makes the entire drama unbelievable is the fact that it’s exactly what Belfort and his cronies did in real life as well. A fantastic performance from DiCaprio (he really wants that Oscar doesn’t he) and supported by Jonah Hill, the movie unfortunately suffers from a long running time. It also features one of the scenes of the year when a drugged DiCaprio tries to drive back home
3. The Place Beyond the Pines: A compelling ambitious movie that explores the whole idea of “Sins of the Father”. A movie with Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper should frankly be a must see movie. Prepare to dampen your excitement as the pair shares just a single scene in the movie. A rather unevenly paced, the movie falters in the 3rd act when the other characters in the movie are forced to carry the burden. Deeply moody and filled with conflicted characters, The Place Beyond the Pines is not a light watch
4. Pain & Gain: Yes. That’s right. A Michael Bay movie almost making it. Pain & Gain is as atypical a Michael Bay movie as Anonymous was for Roland Emmerich and that is quite an achievement for both of them. Based on a true story, it’s the story of a bunch of bodybuilders who decide to get rich fast by kidnapping, torturing and extorting money from rich people. It’s darkly humorous, peppered with scenes of violence and extreme stupidity. While Mark Wahlberg does a good job, the real surprise of the movie is Dwayne Johnson. One never thought he could carry off a role like this so well.
Like last year, this year also had its fair share of clunkers. Poor scripts, badly acted, abysmal plotting, and a host of other factors (including the lack of a brain while devising the movie) feature in the list below
1. After Earth – or the movie that Will Smith did for which he rejected Django Unchained
2. Machete Kills – or the movie that only stayed true to half of it’s prequel’s “So bad that its good”
3. Bullet to the Head – or the movie where both Stallone & Jason Momoa deserve that Bullet
4. Parker – or the movie where Statham’s formula finally fails
5. Red 2 – or the movie where aged stars just turn up to pick up their paychecks
2013 Movies missed out which could have figured in the list – Inside Llewyn Davis, Dallas Buyers Club, Mud, Don Jon, The Spectacular Now, Kings of Summer, Out of Furnace
Next Post: The 2013 Beanbag Critic Award