BY KEVIN CARR
I have to admit that I was a bit worried as 2013 wound down. While there were plenty of movies I enjoyed, there were few that screamed to be put on my Best of the Year list. Fortunately, as seems to happen every year, there were a handful that came through at the end of the year during the furious race of award season that made the grade. Still, this list seems rather lopsided to me, with half of the films being science fiction in nature. In a way, this is one of the more mainstream lists I’ve made in recent years, but there are a few artsy gems in there as well. The biggest surprise for me: no animated films. That was bound to happen one of these days. Anyway, on to my ten favorite of 2013…
10. THE BLING RING
I’ve never been a big Sofia Coppola fan. Sure, “Lost in Translation” was good, but some other films of hers (like “Marie Antoinette” and “Somewhere”) were downright awful. Even when I first heard about “The Bling Ring,” I was uninspired. However, after seeing it, I realized that Coppola’s deadpan and understated delivery was the best way to exhibit the worship of excess of the entitled, wayward youth culture. It plays partly as satire (though a true story) and partly as social commentary. It also doesn’t hurt knowing that the director came from Hollywood privilege, which makes the meaning behind the film so much more powerful.
Here’s one of the surprising films for me this year. I approached the film – even as it started – with much skepticism. I’ve never been one to stampede toward a coming-of-age film like this, but there was a charm (mostly bolstered by fantastic performances by Liam James, Sam Rockwell, Toni Collette and Allison Janney) that I couldn’t deny. It’s a real story of friendship that got my heart by the end. Plus, it featured Steve Carell in a brilliant, out-of-character performance as an asshole. I knew he was capable of this.
Sure, this choice could be considered overly populace. But damn it, I like the Iron Man films (including “The Avengers,” which played as “Iron Man 2.5”). Having not read the comic books, I wasn’t bothered by some of the changes that were made to the mythology, and even after learning more about what happened in the scripting stage, I respect the hell out of Shane Black’s “twist” that pissed off a lot of fanboys. Plus, Ben Kingsley gave one of the best supporting actor performances of the year, and it’s a shame it’s not worthy of most people’s awards.
Here’s another film that surprised me, and it manages to bridge the gap between mainstream film and art-house favorite. While it was billed as a manic-pixie-dreamgirl love story, it’s more a film about the relationship between a man and his father, and as a father of three boys, I connected with the movie more than I ever thought I would.
My apologies to my homosexual friends out there, as I know there’s a lot of bad blood between author Orson Scott Card and this community. In this sense, I do not support Card’s sometimes whackadoodle beliefs, but I can’t deny that I enjoyed the hell out of “Ender’s Game” as a science fiction film. Putting politics aside, “Ender’s Game” delivered strong characters, iconic performances and some pretty amazing special effects. It’s a shame that a film this well constructed suffered from the author’s beliefs that really have nothing to do with the movie itself.
Like the ScreenJunkies Honest Trailers suggests, “Pacific Rim” was either the most awesome dumb movie ever or the dumbest awesome movie ever. Either way, it was a hell of a lot of fun. It’s not deep, and it’s not complex. Instead, it’s a hell of a ride and one of the most entertaining things I’ve seen in cinemas this year. A tribute to giant monster movies from Asia, “Pacific Rim” had some of the greatest special effects I’ve seen, and it also featured some of the best action of the year. I had a blast watching this movie, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.
Here’s one of the late entries into my list, as it technically doesn’t open wide until January. I can always count on Spike Jonze to deliver a thought-provoking and interesting film, and “Her” was no exception. This deconstruction of a relationship was brilliantly written with so much truth in it that was bold and often not exhibited in romantic films. I find it fascinating that the most real and truthful love story seen in 2013 was shown between a person and an operating system.
Say what you want to about Ben Stiller’s acting choices (though I did like “The Watch” last year more than I ever should have), but when he is in the directing chair, he usually gives a fantastic film. And when he stars in his own movies, we see some of his best acting ever. This update of the 1947 Danny Kaye film (which was inspired by the extremely short and thin James Thurber story of the same name), “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” has so much to say about following your dreams and challenging you to live outside of your comfort zone. Beautifully shot, this is a film that takes no shame in being a feel good movie, and you should take no shame in feeling good about it.
This was simply one of the most gripping films of 2013. An exceedingly simple film about a woman stranded in space, “Gravity” balanced characters with action and suspense. I couldn’t look away, and I literally felt myself on the edge of my seat while watching this. If you missed this in 3D or in IMAX, you missed out. It’s one of the few cinematic experiences of the year that warranted a trip to the theater.
Narrowly edging out “Gravity” for my top pick of the year, “Captain Phillips” is a thrilling true story of modern piracy. Sure, this may not be completely accurate to the real captain’s actions, but as a piece of modern filmmaking, it’s brilliant. Paul Greengrass is a master of embedded filmmaking, and his ability to capture reality on camera is amazing. Add some fantastic performances by Tom Hanks (whose understated delivery grows until tension is finally released in an emotional flood near the end) and newcomer Barkhad Abdi as the Somali pirate leader, and you’ve got a winning film.