Monday, January 6, 2014

Bob Ignizio's 2013 end of the year list-o-rama

I'm just gonna' cut right to the chase with my 10 favorite scripted movies of the year list, followed by my 10 favorite documentary films, and then finish off with 5 (okay, 6) of the year's worst. As in past years, my criteria for inclusion is that the film in question must have opened theatrically in the Greater Cleveland area in 2013. Films that skipped theaters and premiered on DVD/Blu Ray/On Demand in 2013 are also eligible. Movies that opened in other cities this year but won't open in Cleveland until 2014, even if they were screened for critics here, will not appear on my list. My policy is if regular movie patrons couldn't see it in 2013, then for the purposes of this list, it isn't a 2013 release.I make no distinction when compiling my lists between English language and foreign language films; if a movie is good, I don't care what language the actors are speaking.

10. WELCOME TO PINE HILL – An ex-drug dealer goes straight and gets a job as an insurance adjuster, only to learn he has terminal cancer. Sure it's emotional, but not in the cheap weepy sort of way you might expect. This one played a few festivals in 2012, but didn't get an actual US release until March 2013. I don't believe it played Cleveland theatrically at all. However, a few weeks ago it showed up on Netflix instant (which is where I saw it), and that makes it fair game for my list.
9. IN THE HOUSE – Director Francois Ozon satirizes middle class values and attitudes about art while examining the way audiences and critics affect the artistic process. Way more accessible (and funny) than that synopsis probably makes it sound.

8. EUROPA REPORT – Sure, GRAVITY is a fine looking film with a surprisingly good performance from Sandra Bullock. For my money, though, the best “peril in space” film of 2013 was this indie that sends a great international cast to one of Jupiter's moons to search for evidence of life. 
 
7. THIS IS THE END – Incredibly vulgar and also incredibly funny, THIS IS THE END was the best of several apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic films released in 2013. 
 
6. THE HUNT – Recalling the McMartin preschool case, THE HUNT tells the story of a popular teacher falsely accused of molesting one of his students, and the resulting nightmare his life becomes. 
 
5. NEBRASKA – An old man tries to hold on to his dignity on a road trip to collect a prize that doesn't exist, accompanied by a son who barely knows him. Sure, it's a bit melancholy at times, but NEBRAKA is warm and funny, too. 
 
4. WAR WITCH – An adolescent girl tries to cope with the horrors of her past a child soldier while questioning whether she can be a good mother to her unborn child. This nominee for “Best Foreign Language Film” at last year's Academy Awards didn't play Cleveland until June of 2013 so it's fair game for my list.
3. BARBARA – A skilled physician living in 80's East Germany must make a difficult choice between escaping to freedom in the West, or helping someone in far greater need than herself. This nominee for “Best Foreign Language Film” at last year's Academy Awards didn't play Cleveland until March of 2013 so it's fair game for my list.

2. MUD – Writer/director Jeff Nicholls (SHOTGUN STORIES, TAKE SHELTER) is now 3 for 3 with this coming of age story that mixes elements of boy's adventure stories and gritty crime fiction. Matthew McConaughey also continues his recent winning streak of picking good roles and acting the hell out of them.

1. SPRING BREAKERS – The best of several movies this past year that focused on the dark side of our cultural obsession with wealth, celebrity, and unrealistic ideals of physical perfection. James Franco gives a wonderfully over the top performance that's a perfect match for director Harmony Korine's hallucinatory visuals. The odds are about even whether you'll love it or hate it, but either way it'll get under your skin.
Other 2013 scripted films I really liked: 12 YEARS A SLAVE, ALL IS LOST, AMERICAN HUSTLE, THE ATTACK, BEFORE MIDNIGHT, THE BLING RING, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR, BYZANTIUM, DON JON, THE EAST, ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW, FAST & FURIOUS 6, FAUST, GO FOR SISTERS, GRAVITY, THE GREAT GATSBY, A HIJACKING, IRON MAN 3, JACKASS PRESENTS: BAD GRANDPA, JOHN DIES AT THE END, LORDS OF SALEM, PAIN & GAIN, PARADISE: LOVE, PARKLAND, THE SILENCE, TABU, THOR: THE DARK WORLD, TIGER EYES, WARM BODIES, WISH YOU WERE HERE, THE WOLVERINE, THE WORLD'S END, YOU AIN'T SEEN NOTHIN' YET, YOU'RE NEXT

You may be wondering about certain high profile films that didn't make my list, or even my mentions. First of all, I just didn't see everything I wanted to this year, partly because I was often taking one for the team by reviewing crap like THE HEAT, partly because all the movies aimed at grown-ups this year got dumped in late November/early December, and partly because being the stay at home dad for a two and a half year old doesn't leave me with nearly as much free time as I used to have (not that I'm complaining) . So I did not see MANDELLA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM, FRUITVALE STATION, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, THE COUNSELOR, DALLAS BUYER'S CLUB, BLUE JASMINE, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, SAVING MR. BANKS, or PHILOMENA. I suspect at least a few of those might have made my list, but I won't know until they get released on home video. As for HER and AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY, as per my personal idiosyncratic rules, those movies don't count because they don't open in Cleveland until January 10th. So they'll be in the running for my 2014 list.

I saw and liked 12 YEARS A SLAVE, GRAVITY, AMERICAN HUSTLE, BEFORE MIDNIGHT, ALL IS LOST, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR, and CAPTAIN PHILLIPS. Just not enough to beat out the other films on my list (although 12 YEARS came pretty close to making the cut). And there were at least two would-be Oscar-bait movies that I hated – The product placement filled self-improvement infomercial THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY, and the outrageously overpraised grade-C thriller with delusions of relevance PRISONERS.


Now on to the best documentaries of 2013.

10. DECEPTIVE PRACTICE: THE MYSTERIES AND MENTORS OF RICKY JAY – Part biography, part history lesson in the art of close-up magic. Just a very well made film on a subject I happen to find interesting, but what's wrong with that?

9. BEWARE OF MR. BAKER – The notion that it's best to separate the art from the artist is compellingly illustrated via legendary Cream drummer Ginger Baker, a man who has seemingly burned every bridge in his path while tossing friends and family to the curb as he raced across. But man, can he play the hell out of those drums.

8. THE TRIALS OF MUHAMMAD ALI – A fascinating look at the now beloved sports figure and national icon at a time when he was considered anything but by many Americans.

7. THE REVISIONARIES – The frightening true story of how one conservative school board in Texas is largely responsible for setting the textbook standards for all of America.

6. ROOM 237 – We may watch the same movie, but we each experience and interpret it differently. This doc illustrates that idea through 4 different takes on Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING. Some seem reasonable, some seem flat out crazy, but if you look hard enough you can find enough evidence to support all of them.

5.
THE SOURCE FAMILY – Not every hippie sex/drug/religious cult of the sixties and seventies ended in mass murder or suicide. Despite the fact that most of their members are still alive and leading fairly productive and responsible lives, the story of the Source Family is still a fascinating one.
4. ADJUST YOUR TRACKING: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE VHS COLLECTOR – Not just a look at the quirky characters who are saving a part of film history (including numerous films that may never be released in digital format), but a love letter to this once hugely popular, and now seemingly obsolete, home video format. And yes, there is a special VHS Collector's edition.

3.
BLACKFISH – You will never go to Sea World again.

2.
A BAND CALLED DEATH – The bittersweet story of an early seventies Detroit proto punk band that finally found recognition decades later.

1. THE ACT OF KILLING – A fascinating and horrifying film in which two former Indonesian death squad leaders speak with pride of their atrocities while re-enacting them in Hollywood style vignettes. And why not? In their minds, these were patriotic acts of heroism. There are moments of stunning visual poetry, and once again we see the banality of evil. Perhaps the scene that stayed with me the most, though, was one in which a “friend” of the subjects recounts how his own father was killed by death squads. It's a moment of great bravery on this man's part, and really gives the film the emotional weight it needs. A one of a kind movie that should not be missed.
Other 2013 documentaries I really liked: FREE RADICALS: A HISTORY OF EXPERIMENTAL FILM, GREGORY CREWDSON: BRIEF ENCOUNTERS, HAPPY PEOPLE: A YEAR IN THE TAIGA, HITLER'S CHILDREN, LONDON: THE MODERN BABYLON, OUR NIXON, SALINGER, SOMM, SOUND CITY, STORIES WE TELL



I've gotten to where I don't really enjoy making a “Worst of” list as much as I used to. As Milan Paurich observed in his own 2013 retrospective on this blog, there just aren't that many truly, astoundingly awful films as there used to be. Certainly very little with the sort of visionary badness of an EXORCIST II: THE HERITIC, or the inspired ineptitude of a PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE,winds up getting released these days. Still, there were a handful of films bad enough to make me want to call them out one last time.

5. MACHETE KILLS – This one is really more disappointing than bad, although it's certainly not good. I thought the first MACHETE did a great job of replicating the kind of low brow, sleazy thrills delivered by the best of seventies exploitation movies. Sure, it winked at the audience, but it did so without descending into self parody. This time around, the balance is tipped too far in the direction of silliness. Adding insult to injury, the movie ends on a cliffhanger. There were a few fun moments scattered here and there, but it's hard to imagine many viewers will want to come back for the conclusion after such a tepid first half.

4. SHARKNADO – Proving just how desperate schlock fans are for the type of “so bad it's good” movies mentioned in my introduction to this list, this fairly typical “mockbuster” from The Asylum became a sensation when it debuted on the SyFy network in June. Way too calculated, slick, and middle of the road to be what it's trying so hard to be.
3. PLANES- Most modern day bad movies are really just mediocre. The worst, however, are mediocre in especially soul crushing ways. That's the case with this CARS spin-off. Obviously conceived as little more than an excuse to launch a new toy line, it's joyless, soulless, and cynical. Pixar may not have their name on this one, but with head honcho John Lasseter given a story and executive producer credit, neither can claim to be entirely blameless. Pixar's own effort this past year – another inferior sequel, MONSTERS UNIVERSITY – wasn't much to be proud of, either.
2. (TIE) THE HEAT and THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY – I think the first paragraph of my review of THE HEAT sums it up: “Everything about THE HEAT is lazy and uninspired, from its generic title to a soundtrack that feels like someone hit shuffle on their iPod and just went with the first dozen or so tracks that came up. The “wunza movie”/buddy cop premise at the heart of the film is as stale as most of what passes for jokes, and none of the characters even remotely resemble people who exist in the real world.”
As for MITTY, while there are plenty of cases in which good literature makes for bad cinema, it's rare to find ones that so completely miss the point and spirit of the work they are adapting. Even taken on its own terms, the movie is constantly undermining itself as when it tries to espouse an anti corporate message in between one gratuitous product placement after another.
1. THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES – Thanks to HARRY POTTER, TWILIGHT, and THE HUNGER GAMES, every YA fantasy book series, no matter how bad, is apparently going to get a shot at being the next big cinematic franchise. In a subgenre that has already produced some pretty awful movies, this is the worst so far, mixing elements from other popular franchises together at random to make a potluck stew of adolescent drivel.


4 comments:

  1. Great list! Is it just me or had MUD been seriously overlooked this awards season?

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    1. I think 'Mud' being overlooked is a perfect example of why the studios wait until the last 2 or 3 months of the year to release their "serious" movies. The cliche' about critics (and Academy voters) having short memories is apparently true. I think if you looked back to the end of the summer, 'Mud' would have been the best reviewed American film of the year. Then all the Oscar bait starting coming out around October, and 'Mud' got lost in the shuffle. Damn shame.

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    2. Oh, and thanks for the compliment! And feel free to post a link to your list on here if you put it up on your blog. Would love to see it.

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  2. for sure...just saw HER last night and I feel that was the last film I needed to see! haha

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