Once again in 2013 I did not see a stand-out masterpiece, though I saw several near-masterpieces. These are the films I saw in 2013 ranked from best to worst:
1. Blue Ruin, directed by Jeremy Saulnier (9/10)
What I said at the time: I have always had a thing for revenge movies, but one thing I will give the genre is that it isn’t realistic. Nearly every Hollywood or Asian revenge movie out there features a regular guy who transforms into some kind of hyper-manly Angel of Death simply through will power. This is not that kind of revenge movie.
December 2013: Part of me does not want to claim this as the best movie as the year, as it is just a very, very good revenge film. However, I had fewer issues with Blue Ruin than I did with the two other best movies I saw this year, both of which had major flaws.
2. Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuaron (9/10)
What I said at the time: Every so often, a film comes along that redefines what is possible in cinema. At one point in the history of film, it was thought that the camera must always stay on one side of the actors in a given scene; it could move laterally or it could zoom out or in, or it could even change its angle, but it couldn’t cross the imaginary line between the actors and the camera itself, for two reasons: First, most movies were shot on sound-stages and the sets didn’t extend all the way around; Second, it was thought that such camera movement would confuse audiences because the locations of the actors would flip.
December 2013: This is truly a technological marvel. I really doubt it holds up to multiple viewings, but so what? An absolutely incredible experience.
2. 12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen (9/10)
What I said at the time: This may seem a weird thing to say but I think this is McQueen’s least difficult material to date. Obviously, slavery is a difficult subject – this is not an easy film to watch – but it is not a morally difficult subject, at least for most of us. Hunger may not have been morally difficult for anyone who wasn’t British, but it was presented in a difficult – and brilliant – manner. Shame did concern morally difficult subject matter, at least for the majority of us who still wish this was the Victorian Era. But this film does not have such subject matter; it is easy for us to establish a moral position on slavery.
December 2013: I still believe this is the weakest film of McQueen’s career, but that is praising with faint damnation, to coin a phrase. It is still the best Hollywood film ever made about slavery and it’s only Pitt’s awkward cameo that, for me, keeps it from being the best film of the year.
2. Under the Skin, directed by Johnathan Glazer (9/10)
This review contains spoilers. Read it.
5. Bastards, directed by Claire Denis (9/10)
6. The Wolf of Wall Street, directed by Martin Scorsese (9/10)
This is basically the Goodfellas of stockbroker films. It’s got so many things in common with his earlier masterpiece that I don’t really want to go into it.
7. American Hustle, directed by David O. Russell (9/10)
I don’t really know where to start with this strange and kind of brilliant film.
8. Borgman, directed by Alex Van Warmerdam (9/10)
A bat shit crazy black comedy-cum-thriller unlike anything else I’ve seen of its ilk.
9. Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus, directed by Madeleine Sackler (9/10)
What I said at the time: This is an important and emotionally compelling film about theatre under repressive regimes. I knew nothing about the Belarus Free Theatre before seeing this film, but they seem to have found a compelling way to bring attention to the plight of the arts – and expression at large – in Belarus. Far more dangerous regimes do not get this kind of exposure perhaps only because they don’t have underground theatre troops. But regardless of the fact that there are indeed more brutal dictators than Lukashenko, he remains a dictator, and this film does an excellent job of painting him as a leader who is only a leader because he has a gigantic secret police force.
December 2013: This is an important documentary that really hasn’t got a lot of attention. There might have been better documentaries this year but I didn’t see them.
10. All is Lost, directed by J.C. Chandor (9/10)
11. Prisoners, directed by Denis Villeneuve (8/10)
This is a mostly excellent kidnapping thriller driven by two absolutely excellent performances and an all-around great supporting cast. The film is so close to being amazing that I was actually quite disappointed that it wasn’t. The issue is that, like any good horror film, this film would have been better with less information in the reveal. Sure, the poetic justice of what happens to one of the characters is cute, but it, and the whole rest of the ending surrounding it, is just too neat, too tidy for the excellent, tense, moving and just utterly compelling film that exists before we are told just what exactly is happening. And though the filmmakers spent a lot of time dropping hints so that we could indeed guess the twist – something I appreciate as I hate it when it’s the opposite – it would have been so much cooler if
12. The Crash Reel, directed by Lucy Walker (8/10)
13. Captain Phillips, directed by Paul Greengrass (8/10)
Politically clueless but otherwise excellent. Read the review.
14. The Armstrong Lie, directed by Alex Gibney (8/10)
15. Charlie’s Country, directed by Rolf de Heer (8/10)
Essential viewing for those of us who live in countries we have stolen from the aboriginals.
16. This is The End, directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen (8/10)
What I said at the time: I knew nothing about this movie going in, save for that it was starring some famous comedic actors as themselves and that it was about the end of the world. I saw it because the wife wanted to. I had never seen – or really heard of – the short and I think I may have seen one trailer. And I think that was for the best and explains my enjoyment.
December 2013: I really doubt it holds up to multiple viewings, but it was absolutely hysterical, and creative, when I saw it in theatres. Genuinely enjoyable.
17. Before Midnight, directed by Richard Linklater (8/10)
18. Jodorowsky’s Dune, directed by Frank Pavich (8/10)
This is a fascinating movie about one of the most important films to never get made. (If you think that’s hyperbole, you learn at the end that it probably isn’t.)
19. La vie d’Adele aka Blue is the Warmest Color directed by Abdellatif Kechiche (8/10)
20. Beyond the Edge, directed by Leanne Pooley (8*/10)
What I said at the time: What could easily have been a bad TV documentary is saved by the rather brilliant idea of actually recreating Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s historic ascent 60 years later and, amazingly enough, the use of 3D.
December 2013: The asterisk is for the fact that I believe watching this on TV – or on any non-3D movie screen – would reveal all sorts of terrible filmmaking decisions. If there is one film that needs to be seen in 3D it is this. (Gravity must be seen in 3D too, but at least there’s a film under those effects, whereas there is probably not very much lurking beyond the 3D in this.)
21. Blue Jasmine, directed by Woody Allen (8/10)
22. Fruitvale Station, directed by Ryan Coogler (7/10)
This is an affecting portrait of the other side of the police shootings we so often hear about in the news. The media, and so many people we know, usually appear to take the side of the police, almost as a matter of course, without even wanting to understand what may have happened. Though obviously there may be occasions where police shootings are justified, anyone who believes in strong liberties / freedoms in a democracy must, as a matter of course assume most police shootings are a symptom of ineffective policing.
23. Inside Llewyn Davis, directed by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen (7/10)
This is a meandering, kind of directionless film about the early ’60s NYC folk scene and one of its possible failed artists (or, at least, I assume that’s what happens to him). Read the rest of the review.
24. Snowpiercer, directed by Joon-Ho Bong (7/10)
It’s great when genre flicks get celebrated and take on a life of their own. And I’m glad that a reasonably smart one such as this has become such a big thing (at least online). But while Snowpiercer is highly entertaining, like so many “high concept” action films, it’s flawed and it’s also kind of long for the concept.
25. Elysium, directed by Neil Blomkamp (7/10)
26. After Tiller, directed by Martha Shane, Lana Wilson (7/10)
This affecting documentary follows the four doctors who continue to perform late term abortions in the United States after their mentor (at least, the mentor for three of them) was killed in 2009.
27. The Best Offer, directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (7/10)
28. Muscle Shoals, directed by Greg Camalier (7/10)
29. Burt’s Buzz, directed by Jody Shapiro (7/10)
This is a fascinating, if somewhat oddly constructed, story of the co-founder and icon of Burt’s Bees, a company I barely new existed as I’m not into all of that organic body product stuff.
30. A Field in England, directed by Ben Wheatley (7/10)
What I said at the time: I don’t really know where to begin with this film. Experimental or avant garde cinema – whether that cinema forsakes narrative or not – rarely has a sense of humour. So I must say that it is a bit of a delight to watch an obviously “experimental” narrative film – kind of a rare thing these days, I should think – that has a strong sense of humour.
December 2013: This is is one of the funniest “avant garde” films you will ever see. That being said, it is still very, very “trippy” and it is not for all tastes.
31. Blackfish, directed by Gabriel Cowperthaite (7/10)
32. American Promise, directed by Joe Brewster, Michele Stephenson (7/10)
This a films that seems to want to be the Hoop Dreams of education. It takes the premise and applies it to two black kids going to a white private school. It is at times moving and at times frustrating.
33. 20 Feet from Stardom, directed by Morgan Nevill (7/10)
This is an interesting and affecting, if oddly structured, documentary about what it’s like to be a backup singer.
34. Pain and Gain, directed by Michael Bay (7/10)
I don’t like Michael Bay’s movies, at least I haven’t since I grew up. Some people have tried to defend him, claiming he is some kind of modern Godard-esque stylistic rebel. I have never felt that way. I usually feel like his films don’t defy internal film logic because of some kind of deep-seeded artistic conviction, but rather defy internal film logic simply because Bay doesn’t care enough to bother with such things, and because his demographic, teenage boys, don’t care either.
35. Bethlehem, directed by Yuval Adler (7/10)
36. Bright Days Ahead, Marion Vernoux (6/10)
37. Machete Kills, directed by Robert Rodriguez (6/10)
The first Machete was an attempt to combine a satire of America’s immigration system with a parody / celebration of “grindhouse” style action films of the ’70s and ’80s. I liked it a lot more than most people, but I don’t appear to have written a review.
38. The World’s End, directed by Edgar Wright (6/10)
39. Mortified Nation, directed by Michael Mayer (6/10)
This is a decent documentary about something called “Mortified,” a traveling show in which selected volunteers share snippets of their teenage diaries with us. There are musical interludes as well, played by a band dressed up in school band uniforms and playing band instruments. The show itself seems like it would be fun to attend and I actually could easily volunteer for something like this and make the cut if I only had the guts. (My journals are that bad.)
40. Europa Report, directed by Sebastian Cordero (6/10)
This is a well-intentioned “hard” science fiction film that is hampered severely by the found footage technique – which, in 2013, is really, really tired – mixed with a Timecode-esque use of split screens, about zero budget, and some giant leaps in logic that such a “hard” science fiction film isn’t supposed to have.
41. August: Osage County, directed by John Wells (6/10)
42. The Frozen Ground, directed by Scott Walker (6/10)
This is an odd one: a ridiculously strong cast is hampered by an odd presentation that is, I suspect, in part hurt by an attempt to make the film both accurate and entertaining. Read the rest of the review.
43. Anita, directed by Freida Lee Mock (6/10)
I was quite young when all this happened. All I really remember that she was “guilty.”
44. The Police Officer’s Wife aka The Policeman’s Wife, directed by Philip Gronning (6/10)
What I said at the time: There are perhaps few movies I have seen more in need of a little common-sense editing than this film. The filmmakers made a bizarre choice which may have made some kind of artistic sense in post-production but which pretty much punishes the audience for watching this film in reality. What is that choice? It will not spoil the movie for you if I tell; it will, however, likely convince you not to see it. This film is separated into 59 chapters. That’s right, 59. Moreover, each chapter’s beginning is announced, as is its end. Now, I don’t want to think that the filmmakers think us viewers are idiots but when I am told a chapter is ending 58 times, I get it into my head that the filmmakers think I am stupid. I wanted to say to them ‘I get your movie is episodic. And, given the absurd run-time in part generated by the 117 chapter headings, I would have been able to figure it out just with fade-outs everyone else manages without 117 chapter headings. Why can’t you?’ Where was the editor in post saying “This is an alienating decision? You are going to lose much of your potential audience through this, especially when it is distributed digitally and people can just turn it off.” Numerous walkouts occurred during the screening – as early as Chapter 20-something, I seem to remember – and their was a collective sigh by the audience when Chapter 51 appeared – we had all assumed Chapter 50 would end the film despite the fact that it didn’t resolve anything.
December 2013: “Structurally audacious” my ass. Never have I seen such a potentially great film ruined by such an idiotic, and clearly wrong-headed decision.
45. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, directed by Francis Lawrence (6/10)
For the first little while I was enjoying this a lot more than the original, which I did not enjoy at all. Read the rest of the review.
46. Adore, directed by Anne Fontaine (6/10)
This film is a really mixed bag. On the one hand, it has a rather ridiculous plot which feels like it’s out of a soap opera.
47. The Station, directed by Marvin Kren (6/10)
What I said at the time: The Station is a reasonably entertaining horror film that suffers from some poor directorial and story choices and perhaps a bit too much interpersonal conflict. Read the rest of the review.
December 2013: I think I overrated this at the time as it did have some terrible CGI, when it used CGI. But it was still entertaining.
48. Grand Piano, directed by Eugenio Mira (5/10)
This film is way better than it has any right to be, mostly because of lots of character development and Elijah Wood (who is excellent), but also because of a stupid ending that is suddenly rendered good (or at least, not stupid). Read the rest of the review.
49. Pacific Rim, directed by Guillermo del Toro (5/10)
This is about as intelligent and well-produced a re-imagining of Gojira as I can imagine, but that isn’t saying much, is it? Read the rest of the review.
50. Kill Your Darlings, directed by John Krokidas (5/10)
51. Oblivion, directed by Joseph Kosinski (5/10)
52. Belle, directed by Amma Asante (5/10)
This would be a nice corrective if it was true. Read the rest of the review.
53. Afflicted, directed by Derek Lee (5/10)
This is a well meaning, reasonably entertaining found footage horror film that suffers from some major flaws. I like the concept and I wanted to like it a lot more than I did, but unfortunately I just can’t get by the problems.
54. Star Trek: Into Darkness, directed by J.J. Abrams (5/10)
I was somewhat of a Star Trek fan in my youth: I watched TNG pretty much all the time it was on – both new episodes and reruns – I watched DS9 and Voyager and I watched enough reruns of the original series, to the point where I probably saw a small majority of that show. But what I feel I spent the most time on were the original six movies.
55. The Last Stand, directed by Kim Jee-woon (5/10)
56. Pioneer, directed by Erik Skjoldbjaerg (5/10)
What I said at the time: What starts out as a fascinating and tense, if oddly shot, story of the divers who laid Norway’s earliest North Sea pipelines soon turns to an over-the-top conspiracy theory film where literally everybody did it but the hero. The film features too much shaky-camera, too much of a “It was the ’70s!” colour palette, and too much out-of-focus-for-the-sake of it, but otherwise the story of the divers themselves seems very compelling. I was practically on the edge of my seat for the first dive in the movie. But for some reason the filmmakers decided that the real story wasn’t good enough, instead they had to invoke just about every conspiracy movie cliché in the book to make this story more “interesting.” And that’s a pity, because by the climax things get really absurd. To make the plot worse there is about zero character development beyond the protagonist himself: his sister-in-law is the token “I don’t want you doing dangerous things!” wife, the politician is the typically horribly corrupt politician, the US divers and staff are the typical Ugly Americans, and so forth, and none of them really change. (Even if the protagonist’s perception of them changes, the characters themselves don’t develop.) And the whole thing is made worse by the attempt to set this in history, as if this movie is some kind of message movie against the Norwegian government and its pursuit of oil revenues.
So I view this as a missed opportunity: a good fictional film or great documentary could have been made about this subject and the fictional film need only have focused on the actual risks took – not the ridiculous, invented, multiple-plot twist conspiracy we got. That would have been a movie I would have enjoyed. These people apparently didn’t realize you don’t need explosions to make a great thriller.
December 2013: This was an absolute mess and it’s a real shame, as it could have been a decent thriller.
57. World War Z, directed by Marc Foster (5/10)
This is a reasonable zombie film with some really neat ideas – it’s essentially a hybrid of a zombie film and a disease thriller – that suffers from some plot holes and an inexplicable rating, which makes it perhaps the least gory zombie movie I have ever seen. Read the rest of the review.
58. The Wolverine, directed by James Mangold (5/10)
The Wolverine is like an angrier, “realer” Superman – he’s more relatable as a human being but very little can hurt him. And so he doesn’t make for much of a main character. Read the rest of the review.
59. Filth, directed by Jon S. Baird (5/10)
James McAvoy gives a bravura performance but the film around him just doesn’t work very well. Read the rest of the review.
60. The Fifth Estate, directed by Bill Condon (4/10)
61. The Numbers Station, directed by Kasper Barfoed (4/10)
What I said at the time: This is a s strange one and it is sort of hard to decide what exactly they were going for. I think, at some level, they were trying to attempt a sort of underground submarine-movie-type claustrophobia, but that doesn’t work.
December 2013: This was pretty brutal and there’s a reason it went to straight to “digital.”
62. Thor: The Dark World, directed by Alan Taylor (4/10)
63. Riddick, directed by David Twohy (4/10)
64. Ender’s Game, directed by Gavin Hood (4/10)
65. Warm Bodies, directed by Jonathan Levine (4/10)
From the very beginning, this movie – and presumably its source, the novel – violates many if not most genre conventions. So maybe it shouldn’t judged on the terms of those conventions. Because if it is judged on the conventions of the genre, it is bad.
66. The Art of the Steal, directed by Johnathan Sobol (4/10)
This is a pretty unfunny heist comedy – or perhaps a parody of a heist film, I’m not sure – that really, really, really wants to be Ocean’s 11 or perhaps Ocean’s 12, not 100% sure. There are few films I have seen that are so over-directed.
67. Parker, directed by Taylor Hackford (4/10)
I just read a hilarious review of this on IMDB about how this should be called “Every Other Jason Statham Movie Ever Made” but he should have added the caveat, “in South Beach,” because this is basically ‘Jason Staham Goes to South Beach’, or at least most of it is. Read the rest of the review.
68. Oldboy, directed by Spike Lee (4/10)
What the fuck did Spike Lee do to Oldboy? Read the full review.
69. Dom Hemingway, directed by Richard Shepard (4/10)
Well, this ostensible tale of redemption has no idea what it wants to be. Read the rest of the review.
70. Broken City, directed by Allen Hughes (4/10)
71. R.I.PD., directed by Robert Schwentke (4/10)
72. All Cheerleader’s Die, directed by Lucky McKee, Chris Sivertson (4/10)
This is, I believe, an attempt at a satire about women in teenage / high school horror films. Unfortunately, it’s not very funny. Read the rest of the review.
73. Child of God, directed by James Franco (4/10)
74. Broken, directed by Bright Wonder Obasi (4/10)
75. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, directed by Harald Zwart
Well, it could have been worse. Read the review.
76. Gangster Squad, directed by Reuben Fleischer (3/10)
This is a colossally dumb movie that wastes an absolutely fantastic cast.
77. Furious 6, directed by Justin Long (3/10)
78. Homefront, directed by Gary Fleder (3/10)
Statham once again plays an inexplicably British American ex-whatever (insert: cop, soldier, FBI agent, etc.) who, via some kind of misunderstanding, finds himself at odds with his new community. Read the rest of the review.
79. Redemption, directed by Steven Knight (3/10)
This is another one of those Jason Statham movies that is not content with being a Jason Statham movie. Read the rest of the review.
80. Deep Dark Canyon, directed by Abe Levy, Silver Tree (3/10)
This is a poorly made film. It’s evident from the first 5-10 minutes that this movie is not very good. Read the rest of the review.
81. G.I. Joe: Retaliation, directed by John M. Chu (3/10)
This is infinitely better than the original, at least technically speaking: the film is not a cartoon posing as a live action film, and the script is far, far better. Read the rest of the review.
82. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, directed by Tommy Wirkola (3/10)
I guess it’s okay when graphic novels violate everything we know about history and physics if the story is good enough. I say “I guess” because I don’t really feel that way, but I can conceive of a graphic novel storyline good enough that I wouldn’t mind that history and physics were so thoroughly violated. But I need a story. Or, I need humour. And this adaptation of a one of those graphic novels has neither.
83. Almost Human, directed by Joe Begos (3/10)
What I said at the time:
Instead of a review, I wrote a brief skit. Read it.
December 2013: Some of the worst dialogue you will ever experience in an otherwise competently made movie. If my snark above didn’t convey it, I have never seen a film that used characters’ names as much as this script. It’s as if the writer thought we would forget who everyone was, as if they were all being played by the same person.
84. Are All Men Pedophiles? directed by Jan-Willem Breure (3/10)
85. Olympus Has Fallen, directed by Antoine Fuqua (2/10)
Why am I not surprised Fuqua made this? The movie should really be titled Die Hard at the White House, as that’s what it is, only with a less charismatic McClane wannabe who has more professional training, fewer vices and less of a way with words. (I.e. he isn’t really an interesting character in any way.) Obviously the White House itself couldn’t be used for this movie so Fuqua’s – or somebody’s – solution was to CGI a ton of it and it’s hard to know what’s worse, the terrible, drum-beating, flag-waiving, American-exceptionalism-drowned script or the terrible, cartoonish CGI. The only thing that keeps it from being an outright disaster of epic proportions is the ridiculous number of great, good and competent actors, nearly all of whom appear to be taking this whole thing very, very seriously. With the exception of one speech where Freeman looks like he wants to be kidnapped away from this horrible mess of a script – both the plot and the dialogue are terrible – everyone is behaving as if they are acting in something much, much better. And, as shocking as that is, it at least forces me to grant that this isn’t among the worst Hollywood blockbusters ever made. (But it’s close!)
About that script: it’s really hard to figure out how this attack on the White House would actually be possible in actuality but we might be able to accept its implausibility if the words coming out of everyone’s mouths weren’t so horribly cliché; whoever wrote this apparently only ever watches movies like Independence Day and thinks that films like that are the finest examples of dialogue we have on offer. Unfortunately the IMDB quotes page smartly omits the worst lines of the movie and I forgot to write them down. But take my word for it, the dialogue – particularly the speeches – is on a level by itself.
86. The Colony, directed by Jeff Renfro (2/10)
This film starts with some of the worst CGI snow I can remember seeing outside xXx. And things get worse from there. This movie begins with the at least somewhat intriguing premise of people locked inside buildings in a post-apocalyptic winter, threatened by the common cold. That’s an idea for a film. A sort of post-apocalyptic Das Boot meets The Thing without the monster or something. I think that’s a strong idea. In fact, I think it’s an excellent idea. I would like to see that movie. Unfortunately…
87. The Purge, directed by James DeMonaco (2/10)
88. Contracted, directed by Eric England (2/10)
Not only is this film idiotic, but it is boring. I think it’s supposed to be a horror movie but nothing about it is scary (and there are only a few gross moments). Read the rest of the review.
89. Sharknado, directed by Anthony C. Ferrante (1/10)
I really don’t have any words for this. Yes I do: read my review.
90. Spiders, directed by Tibor Takacs (1/10)
I should have live-blogged this. There’s really no way to describe how bad this film is in words. But I tried anyway: Read my review.
91. SAGA – Curse of the Shadow, directed by John Lyde (1/10)
This is s special kind of film. I have seen lots of terrible movies in my time, but rarely have I seen a film as derivative as this one: there are dwarfs (well, one), elves and orcs, and the odd cleric, and it pretty much feels like this is Dungeons and Dragons mixed with Lord of the Rings. In fact, this film borders on plagiarism, as it contains a Gollum-like character who calls himself by the Royal We and actually utters the word “precious.”