Whoever said “all good things come to those who wait” must have been talking about the 2013 movie year. Until September, I didn’t even think I’d find ten worthy contenders for a best list. By year’s end I had the opposite problem. The goodies (HER, AMERICAN HUSTLE, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, et al) began raining down in such dizzying succession you needed an umbrella to keep from drowning.
Dreary tentpole movies remained the bread and butter of the major studios, and there seemed to be a new--and usually underwhelming--comic book or CGI 3-D animated film released every weekend. But jaw-dropping, head-scratching Golden Turkey candidates were few and far between. Call it a mixed blessing.
Because my favorite movies this year sang to me, I decided to try something a little different with my top ten list. Instead of just doing boilerplate capsules, I’ve instead borrowed song lyrics that seemed particularly apropos. (Some are a bit more obscure than others so bear with me.)
With thanks to Marcello Ciorciolini, Norman Newell, Van McCoy, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Les Reed, Barry Mason, Walter Becker, Donald Fagen, David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz, Rokusuke Ei, Gerome Ragni, James Rado and Van Morrison, these are the 2013 films whose melodies--haunting, plangent and always true--have taken up permanent residence in my heart.
The 10 Best:
(1). HER (Spike Jonze). More than you’ll ever know, my arms long to hold you so.
(2). AMERICAN HUSTLE (David O. Russell). Do it! Do It! Do It! Do The Hustle!
(3). INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (Joel and Ethan Coen). Right on target, so direct, you could make me cry if you don’t know.
(4). NEBRASKA (Alexander Payne). At the end of every hard earned day, people find some reason to believe.
(5). ENOUGH SAID (Nicole Holofcener). Linger awhile, then go with a smile...like a friend who just happened to call.
(6). FRANCES HA (Noah Baumbach). Brooklyn owes the charmer under me.
(7). THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (Martin Scorsese). I’m tense and nervous and I can’t relax, don’t touch me I’m a real live wire.
(8). THE GRANDMASTER (Wong Kar-wai). Untouchable memories seem to keep haunting me, now my eyes are filled with tears and I’m wishing you were here.
(9). GRAVITY (Alfonso Cuaron). Floating, flipping, flying, tripping. My body is walking in space; my soul is in orbit with God face to face.
(10). TO THE WONDER (Terrence Malick). Then magnificently we will float into the mystic.
Runner’s-up (in alphabetical order):
THE ACT OF KILLING; AT BERKELEY; BASTARDS; BEFORE MIDNIGHT; BEHIND THE CANDELABRA; BEYOND THE HILLS; BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR; BLUE JASMINE; CAESAR MUST DIE; THE CANYONS; COMPUTER CHESS; DRINKING BUDDIES; ELYSIUM; FAUST; 56 UP; FROZEN; THE GREAT BEAUTY; IN THE HOUSE; MUD; OUR PARADISE; PACIFIC RIM; THE PAST; POST TENEBRAS LUX; PRINCE AVALANCHE; RUSH; SHORT TERM 12; SOMETHING IN THE AIR; A TOUCH OF SIN; UPSTREAM COLOR; WHAT MAISIE KNEW; YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHIN’ YET; YOU’RE NEXT.
The 10 Worst:
- THE HEAT. Lazy, slovenly made and excruciatingly unfunny, this atrocious odd couple/cop/buddy “comedy” was the most cynical and depressing movie released all year.
- THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES. Godawful tweener piffle based on Cassandra Clare’s best-selling YA series. What hath the wildly successful “Harry Potter,” “Hunger Games” and “Twilight” franchises wrought?
- INSTRUCTIONS NOT INCLUDED. The acting and script were strictly amateur hour in this ineptly-made Spanish-language clunker. Absolutely nothing works here. Not the cretinous comedy; not the cringe-inducing sentimentality; nada. How sad that Hispanic-American audiences were so starved for a movie in their native tongue they helped turn it into a grassroots phenomenon.
- TEMPTATION: CONFESSIONS OF A MARRIAGE COUNSELOR. Tyler Perry strikes again with another howlingly awful melodrama. Amateurishly written, directed and acted (tabloid magnet Kim Kardashian stunk up the screen in her screen debut), it positively reeked of misogyny--and Perry’s inflated ego.
- OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN. Brainless action flick about a North Korean terrorist plot to destroy America, beginning with the--gulp!--White House. A classy A-List cast (Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Aaron Eckhart, Ashley Judd, Radha Mitchell, et al) is wasted on a jingoistic D-grade script that Chuck Norris would have rejected back in his 1980’s Cannon Films glory days.
- R.I.P.D. Resembling a dreary video game that nobody in their right mind would ever want to play, this $130-million-plus amalgam of MEN IN BLACK and GHOSTBUSTERS was shockingly devoid of wit, style or originality. A career low point for Jeff Bridges, and yet another nail in poor Ryan (THE GREEN LANTERN, THE CHANGE-UP, TURBO) Reynolds’ coffin. R.I.P. indeed.
- FREE BIRDS. The first Thanksgiving-themed animated movie, and hopefully the last. A free-range fowl of epic proportions.
- CLOSED CIRCUIT. The first half of this narcoleptic thriller is well nigh impenetrable unless you’re up to speed on the intricacies of the British legal system. The second half is just thuddingly predictable. Both parts, however, are suffocatingly dull.
- ADORE. Maybe this risible Aussie soaper about lifelong friends (Robin Wright and Naomi Watts, slumming) who embark upon affairs with each other’s teenage sons would have played better in director Anne Fontaine’s native France. Or maybe not.
- THE BOOK THIEF. Currier and Ives-ish Holocaust kitsch based on Marcus Zusak’s 2006 best-seller. I’m still trying to get the bad taste out of my mouth.
BEST MOVIE NOBODY SAW:
SHORT TERM 12 with an electrifying star-is-born performance by Brie Larson.
WORST MOVIE EVERYONE SAW:
MOVIES I WANTED TO LIKE MORE THAN I DID:
ALL IS LOST; CAPTAIN PHILLIPS; THE COMPANY YOU KEEP; THE COUNSELOR; THE EAST; IN A WORLD; LEVIATHAN; MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM; MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING; SAVING MR. BANKS; STORIES WE TELL; 12 YEARS A SLAVE; VIOLA.
MOVIE I KINDA HATED THAT I’D MOST LIKE TO SEE AGAIN:
MOST UNDERRATED POPCORN FLICKS:
BEAUTIFUL CREATURES; BULLET TO THE HEAD; ELYSIUM; THE LONE RANGER; PAIN AND GAIN; 2 GUNS; WHITE HOUSE DOWN.
MOST UNDERRATED POPCORN FLICKS DISGUISED AS ART FILMS:
BEST SUBTITLED ACTION FLICK:
Johnny To’s DRUG WAR.
Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd in PRINCE AVALANCHE.
MOST OVERRATED BOX OFFICE JUGGERNAUTS:
THE CONJURING; FAST AND FURIOUS 6; THE HEAT; WE’RE THE MILLERS.
MOVIE THAT ALMOST MADE ME FEEL LIKE A KID AGAIN:
Guillermo del Toro’s spectacularly entertaining PACIFIC RIM, the best “Godzilla” (and “Transformers”) movie(s) ever made.
HBO MOVIE THAT WOULD HAVE EASILY MADE MY TOP 10 LIST IF IT HAD BEEN ELIGIBLE:
Steven Soderbergh’s BEHIND THE CANDELABRA.
BEST HORROR MOVIE:
YOU’RE NEXT. Adam Wingard’s home invasion thriller had not one, but two diabolically clever plot twists you never saw coming, a delicious, Dario Argento/Goblin-esque soundtrack and Dwight Twilley’s “Looking for the Magic” as a witty musical leit motif.
BEST ANIMATED FILM:
In an underwhelming year for animation (ESCAPE FROM PLANET EARTH anyone?), Disney’s FROZEN--the Mouse House’s best non-Pixar ‘toon since 1994’s THE LION KING--was easily the cream of the crop.
MOST OVERRATED ANIMATED FILM:
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY. Sorry, folks, but Pixar’s seemingly unstoppable winning streak has now officially ended.
CONTRARY TO THOMAS WOLFE, YOU CAN GO HOME AGAIN. BUT YOU PROBABLY SHOULDN’T:
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY; NEBRASKA.
GORDON GEKKO PLUS PATRICK BATEMAN DIVIDED BY HENRY HILL:
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET’s Jordan Belfort.
BEST ROAD MOVIE:
Ben Wheatley’s delightfully twisted SIGHTSEERS.
HE’S FUNNY? WHO KNEW?:
Christian Bale shed his Method-y angst and cut loose in AMERICAN HUSTLE. Since comedy clearly becomes him, I hope Bale lightens up more often in the future.
TRUTH IS SADDER THAN FICTION:
BLUE CAPRICE; DALLAS BUYERS CLUB; FRUITVALE STATION; LONE SURVIVOR; OUR CHILDREN; PHILOMENA.
THEY MIGHT AS WELL FACE IT THEY’RE ADDICTED TO SEX:
DON JON; THANKS FOR SHARING.
THEY MADE A SEQUEL TO THAT?:
In the annals of thoroughly unnecessary sequels released this year (THOR: THE DARK WORLD; FAST AND FURIOUS 6; INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2; SMURFS 2; THE LAST EXORCISM, PART II; A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD; PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS; SCARY MOVIE 5; RIDDICK; CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2; THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT 2: GHOSTS OF GEORGIA; G.I. JOE: RETALIATION; KICK-ASS 2; ad nauseam), Robert Rodriguez’s box office non-starter MACHETE KILLS brought new meaning to the word “gratuitous.”
MOVIE I WISH I’D SEEN IN TIME TO PUT ON MY 2012 10-BEST LIST:
NOT FADE AWAY.
BEST TEEN MOVIES:
GIMME THE LOOT; THE SPECTACULAR NOW; THE WE AND THE I.
GIMME THE LOOT; THE SPECTACULAR NOW; THE WE AND THE I.
All those critics who worked themselves into a tizzy dissing MOVIE 43 claiming it was the worst movie ever made clearly hadn’t seen a lot of movies. Or THE HEAT.
Cockney bruiser Jason Statham starred in three movies this year (PARKER, REDEMPTION and HOMEFRONT), none of which grossed even $20-million at the domestic box-office.
MOVIES THAT WERE THE EASIEST TO FORGET THE SECOND YOU HIT THE PARKING LOT: GETAWAY; PARANOIA.
MOVIES THAT SHOULD HAVE REMAINED ON THE SHELF:
ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE; BATTLE OF THE YEAR.
MOST WELCOME NEW INDIE DISTRIBUTER:
A24 released SPRING BREAKERS, THE BLING RING and THE SPECTACULAR NOW in their freshman year. Long may they run.
THE ACT OF KILLING; AT BERKELEY; and 56 UP.
WHY REMAKE A MOVIE UNLESS YOU’RE GOING TO DO IT BETTER?:
CARRIE; EVIL DEAD; MANIAC; GREAT EXPECTATIONS; and ROMEO AND JULIET, none of which could hold a candle to the original(s).
A REMAKE THAT ACTUALLY GOT IT RIGHT:
Even with Carey Mulligan’s blah Daisy, Baz Luhrmann’s THE GREAT GATSBY--with its fantastic lead performance by Leonardo DiCaprio--was a blast, and easily the best screen translation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic literary masterpiece to date.
MOVIE THAT MOST MADE ME WANT TO TAKE A SHOWER AFTER WATCHING IT:
Brandon Cronenberg’s uber-icky ANTIVIRAL.
SOMETIMES MOVIE CRITICS DON’T MAKE THE BEST PARENTS:
The New York Times’ A.O. Scott bragged about seeing the sexually explicit three-hour French lesbian romance BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR twice (twice!) in the same weekend with his 14-year-old daughter.
FROM THE MOUTHS OF...:
My favorite lines of movie dialogue this year came from a slushy snowman in Disney’s instant classic FROZEN (“Some people are worth melting for”) and a jaded Italian intellectual (“What’s wrong with feeling nostalgic? It’s the only distraction left for those who’ve no faith in the future”) in Paolo Sorrentino’s marvelous THE GREAT BEAUTY which somehow managed to be Proustian and Fellini-esque in the same breath.
BEST MOVIE TO GO STRAIGHT TO DVD (IN THE U.S. ANYWAY):
OUR PARADISE. French provocateur Gael Morel’s most (Jean) Genet-ish film to date told the story of two male prostitute/thieves and their poetically grungy existence on the mean streets of Paris. Unforgettable.
(Runner-up: Francis Ford Coppola’s great-looking B-horror homage, TWIXT.)
HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN?:
After LADY IN THE WATER, THE HAPPENING, THE LAST AIRBENDER and this year’s somnambulant AFTER EARTH, it’s getting increasingly hard to believe that Shyamalan once made some terrific movies.
IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AND I FEEL FINE;
Maybe it’s a sign of the times, but a central motif in many of this year’s films (WORLD WAR Z, THIS IS THE END, THE WORLD’S END and IT’S A DISASTER) was the end of the world. Surprisingly, they were all pretty good.
MOST DISAPPOINTING YEAR-END AWARDS BAIT MOVIE:
MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM. Come back, Richard Attenborough; all is forgiven. (Runner-up: SAVING MR. BANKS.)
MOST GRUELING TRILOGY I’M GLAD I ENDURED:
Ulrich Seidl’s brutal PARADISE trifecta of LOVE, FAITH and HOPE.
ROMANTIC COMEDIES DONE RIGHT:
DRINKING BUDDIES; ENOUGH SAID.
...AND TERRIBLY, TERRIBLY WRONG:
GIRL MOST LIKELY; THE TO-DO LIST.
BEST USE OF CGI:
GRAVITY. (Runner-up: PACIFIC RIM.)
MOST UNNECESSARY REBOOT:
Zach Snyder’s leaden MAN OF STEEL.
MOST UNNECESSARY SPIN-OFF:
Disney’s ho-hum CARS-derived PLANES.
MOST UNEVENTFUL “EVENT” MOVIES:
HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS; JACK THE GIANT SLAYER; OBLIVION; OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.
Sandra Bullock gave the best performance of her career in Alfonso Cuaron’s mind-blowing, ground-breaking GRAVITY just four months after stinking up the screen with harpy Melissa McCarthy in THE HEAT.
AREN’T MELISSA McCARTHY’S 15 MINUTES UP YET?:
IDENTITY THIEF and THE HEAT displayed one trick pony McCarthy at her most sickeningly abrasive. Either she needs to come up with a new schtick or give it a (permanent) rest.
THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES AWARD:
Steve (HUNGER, SHAME) McQueen continues to hoodwink gullible critics with his art gallery installations masquerading as films. McQueen’s 12 YEARS A SLAVE was not only the most overrated movie of the year, but one of the most emotionally distant and profoundly alienating. Pretty amazing when you consider the extraordinary true-life source material he had to work with.
...AND THE EMPRESS’:
All of Sarah Polley’s three films to date (AWAY FROM HER, TAKE THIS WALTZ and this year’s ponderous navel-gazer STORIES WE TELL) have been absurdly overpraised, mostly by heterosexual male critics with schoolboy crushes on the comely Canuck actress-director.