Instead of just doing a best of list this year, I decided to tell you about my favorite films of 2013, a few that I enjoyed but wouldn’t call my favorites, and some of the just plain bad films I saw this year.
But first, because I am a full time grad student who also works a part time job, I had neither the time nor the money to see every film this year. There’s also the pesky problem of living in Birmingham, Alabama and not having access to limited releases (we still haven’t gotten Her or Inside Llewyn Davis here yet). Therefore, there are still quite a few films that I’m positive would make my favorites list if I was able to see them. In addition to Her and Inside Llewyn Davis, I haven’t had a chance to see Blue Jasmine, 12 Years a Slave, Saving Mr. Banks, The Wolf of Wall Street, Rush, You’re Next, Short Term 12, Frances Ha, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, or Fruitvale Station.
Now, on to the lists.
Movies I liked (but didn’t love, apparently)
Now You See Me: Here’s the thing about this movie: It was fun and it had a great cast. Sure it’s not groundbreaking cinema or anything, but I had a blast seeing this one in theaters. I actually forgot about it though until I saw it in Best Buy on Black Friday.
Thor: The Dark World: It was better than the first one, and I loved the story between Thor and Loki. I still am not convinced that Thor is an interesting enough character to hold his own film franchise. He’s great with the other Avengers but I don’t think they’ve found the right writers or directors for his solo series quite yet. All that being said, I’ll be buying it on Blu-ray when it comes out.
The Kings of Summer and The Way, Way Back: I’m lumping these together because they’re both summery coming of age films. I would have absolutely loved them when I was a teen, but as a 20-something they don’t fully resonate with me anymore. However, The Way, Way Back really captured what it felt like for me personally to have gone through being a socially awkward teenage boy. It was definitely the better of the two films.
To the Wonder: There is every possibility that at some point this will become one of my favorite films of this year. I didn’t particularly love Malick’s Tree of Life when I first saw it but now would rank it among my favorite films of all time. I think this is one that I need to see again and let roll around in my mind for a little while.
World War Z: I was really surprised that I liked World War Z. It was a pleasant surprise and fun to watch. A PG-13 zombie movie isn’t ideal, but it’s worth a rental.
My favorite films of 2013 (in the order in which I saw them)
Iron Man 3
I hated Iron Man 3 at first. I didn’t like what they did to The Mandarin because I’m a comic book nerd who has problems separating the source material from the film. But this has steadily grown on me to become probably my second favorite stand-alone superhero film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (my favorite is Captain America: The First Avenger). The story is fantastic, it’s nice to see Tony grow, and it has an incredible finale. It’s smart, funny, emotional, and fun. What more could you ask for in a blockbuster?
The Great Gatsby
Look, I’m perfectly aware that as someone who minored in English and who loves the original novel I’m supposed to hate this movie. But I’m a big fan of Baz Luhrmann and Leonardo DiCaprio so I was already in love from the start. Luhrmann is one of those directors who you either love or hate and I am firmly on the love side of that equation. I thought Gatsby was brilliant. Luhrmann’s directing captured the party atmosphere of the novel but also did a fantastic job of showing the hollowness of the life Gatsby led. I think this is a brilliant, subversive film that destroys the notion of the American dream. But that’s another post altogether.
Beautiful, cerebral, understated, sparse. A transcendent film that makes the best use of sound that I’ve ever experienced. This movie isn’t entertainment, it’s an experience, an emotion, a moment that you can’t look away from. This isn’t a film to think about and dissect. It’s a film to be felt, it’s a film that should wash over your senses and overwhelm you. I think this film is more like a Terrence Malick film than To the Wonder.
Man I loved this movie. It was a welcome break this summer just as blockbuster fatigue was starting to set in. Great performances from all of the actors, well-written and beautifully shot. This a coming-of-age film that doesn’t feel like one, which is a good thing. It’s sort of reminiscent of Huckleberry Finn, which is a good thing. It’s been sort of overlooked, which is a bad thing (I haven’t seen it on any year end lists yet). If you missed it, find it and watch it now.
It’s a movie directed by Guillermo del Toro about giant robots beating up giant monsters. What more do you want? Easily my favorite blockbuster of the year.
The visual effects in this movie are stunning. I hate 3D films but this was one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen and if you didn’t see it in 3D you’re really missing out. Luckily, it’s not just pretty to look at, it’s well written and wonderfully (masterfully) paced. Even though it’s big and pretty and scary it’s also deeply personal and intimate. This one is a contender for my favorite movie of the year.
It’s hardly a secret that I’m a nerd. It should come as no surprise that one of my favorite films this year is a film about nerds. I love the celebration of nerds, the critique of hipster nerd culture, and the realistic portrayal of nerdy people. Zero Charisma doesn’t fall into the tropes about Dungeons and Dragons players, it never plays up the cliches nor does it smooth over any of the rough outlines of the characters. All of the characters felt real, and I feel like I know every single one of them in real life.
Much Ado About Nothing
Joss Whedon made Much Ado while The Avengers was still in post. It’s his little passion project, a way to get away from the hype and hugeness that was The Avengers. The cast is full of former Whedon collaborators (if you’ve ever watched any of his shows you’ll find some of your favorite actors/actresses in this movie) and they all give incredible performances. I always love Shakespeare adaptations that retain the original script and language but update the setting. Even though Whedon retained Shakespeare’s original text, he made the film all his own.
My wife loves Disney princess movies. I really only saw Frozen because I knew she would love it. I had no idea how much I would love it too. It’s funny and smart. It turns all of the Disney princess tropes on their heads. I love that the message is about being a strong, independent female who doesn’t need to be rescued by a male. This is my favorite Disney princess movie, and the first one I want my future daughters to watch.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
I was not a fan of the first Hunger Games film. I can’t quite put my finger on what I didn’t love about it, but something just put me off. A good adaptation transcends the source material to stand on it’s own as a work of art and where there original Hunger Games film didn’t do that, Catching Fire does so with spades. Instead of talking about it here, I’ll point you to three articles that say everything I want to say, but do so better than I could: Here, here, and here.
The World’s End
I’m a huge fan of Edgar Wright’s films, especially Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, parts one and two of the Cornetto Trilogy (none of these are direct sequels, just a loose grouping of films). I’m willing to say that The World’s End is my favorite of the series. It’s not as laugh out loud funny as Shaun or Hot Fuzz are, but it is still really funny and it’s much more deeply personal. Again, let me point you to an article that is far better than anything I could say: FILM CRIT HULK SMASH.
The last film I saw in 2013 may also be the best film I saw in 2013. American Hustle is far funnier than I expected it to be (Jennifer Lawrence’s character is incredible, and her dance to “Live and Let Die” is pure gold). But it’s also a deadly serious film about excess. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one snatch a few Golden Globes and Oscars (though I doubt it will win Best Picture at either). The cast is basically made up of the stars of the last two David O. Russell films (The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook) and they all give some of the best performances of their careers (and that is really saying something). I think this may be the single best performance from Amy Adams thus far.
Movies I did not enjoy
The Bling Ring: While The Bling Ring certainly had some amazing performances (Emma Watson in particular did an amazing job) it just didn’t quite connect. This isn’t a terrible movie, it’s just not quite a good one either.
Man of Steel: I really hated this movie. It was long, self-important, and nonsensical. Us comic nerds can argue all day about whether or not Superman kills but what we can’t argue about is whether or not Superman is selfless. That’s part of the core identity of Superman. The Superman of Man of Steel is supremely selfish (although I’m not a huge fan of Devin Faraci, his piece on Man of Steel is perfect, read it here).
Star Trek Into Darkness: Hands down the worst film I saw this year. Self-important, incoherent, and stupid. The ending renders any further sequels useless. Khan is boring and one dimensional. The throwback references to Wrath of Khan are pointless and provide nothing to the story. Side note: This movie also finally broke any confidence I had in Rotten Tomatoes.