It Was The Best Of Times, It Was The Worst Of Times.
In a year where Hollywood ruined the term “star-studded” with polished turds like After Earth and unpolished turds like Grown Ups 2, lesser known filmmakers rose up to contribute quality cinema. Sure, there were still some big name movies that delivered the goods (Gravity most notably), but man was it a big year to be a small movie. The good news, in case you live in a town dominated by multiplexes, is that most indie film releases go to Netflix when they die.
As Sharon pointed out in her list, it was also a good year for women in front of camera as well as behind. Cate Blanchett gave the performance of the year; Sandra Bullock was the anchor for Alfonso Cuarón’s adventure in weightlessness; Wadjda and In A World, both directed by women, succeeded at portraying the difficulty women have in a man’s world, while still being utterly enjoyable, uncynical movies.
What surprised me most about 2013 was the 25-car pile up at the end of the year. Up until October, no one had a clear pick for movie of the year. Then came the hit parade. I couldn’t catch up before year’s end, so unfortunately I have not taken Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Wolf of Wall Street, or American Hustle into consideration. Considering the caliber of Spike Jonze, the Coen Brothers, Martin Scorcese, and David O. Russell, my list is asterisked. That’s not to say I didn’t get out there at all. I watched quite a bit of great cinema thanks to my opportunities with zekefilm.org. And from that I report:
Top Three of 2013
1. Blue Jasmine
I grade Woody Allen on a curve. He has shown that he can make exceptional boy-we’ll-miss-him-when-he’s-gone films on a yearly basis, even in his retirement years. But Blue Jasmine immediately shoots to the top tier of Woody Allen’s crowded repertoire. It has the pop and sizzle of a debut film, the depth of a masterpiece, and the breezy demeanor of a comedian’s final bit for the night. I can’t imagine Woody topping Blue Jasmine before he’s done. But I hope he does.
It has its detractors, but minute for minute Gravity was the most exhilarating session in movie theaters this year. Alfonso Cuarón’s magnificent use of special effects and 3D—is there a better 3D experience out there—and easy to grasp message of hope made it a lock for Movie of the Year at the multiplex. In a year where stars and big budgets usually led to bloated, confusing messes (see my Meh List further down), Cuarón gave us a lean, if a bit sentimental, thriller.
3. The Act of Killing
What happens when you bring together the top executioners of a purge and ask them to make a movie out of their evil, yet celebrated, deeds? Joshua Oppenheimer’s bizzarely captivating documentary about the 1965 Communist purge in Indonesia seeks that answer. It is the love child of Lars von Trier’s The Five Obstructions and Jason Kohn’s Manda Bala. Every time I thought “how did they get that on film?” there was yet another scene of surreal please-don’t-let-that-be-the-same-earth-I-live-on insanity. I’m still reeling from the experience and will probably not revisit this movie until some faith in humanity has been restored.
#4–10 Run Down
Bullet points, because I’m a lazy and lazy r people 2.
4. Twelve Years a Slave
What I (naively) wanted Django Unchained to be.
A firecracker of a movie. Haifaa al-Mansour has an amazing future in storytelling.
6. All is Lost
A risky idea for a picture—a 106 minute one man show?—but Redford carries it wonderfully on his 77-year old shoulders.
7. Frances Ha
You have to be in the right mood, but Frances Ha is as smile inducing as it sets out to be.
8. Fruitvale Station
A day in the life of a happy, just man who comes to an unhappy, unjust end.
9. Pacific Rim
I like my beer cold, my TV loud and my robot-monster movies over the top.
10. In a World
Comedy is subjective so… who am I kidding, this is the funniest movie of the year. Tina Fey, step down for a second, Lake Bell wants the microphone.
Top Meh of 2013
Some snarky one-liners about my biggest disappointments this year.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Made me appreciate Lincoln more.
Made me appreciate District 9 more.
Man of Steel
Made me appreciate any other superhero movie more.
Star Trek Into Darkness
Made me appreciate not being inside of a movie theater more.