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. Just scroll down a bit to avoid it.
This is a fascinating, complex and audacious take on the ‘sexy alien predator among us’ sub genre I was briefly into as a teenage boy back when Species came out and I loved Natasha Henstridge. Make no mistake, this is a very, very different take on the theme.
I figure this plot can go one of two ways: the alien among us (even if they are not posing as a sexy lady) either wants to destroy us all and must be taken down in a violent showdown, or the alien wants to become us. Glazer chooses the latter which results in a dramatic left turn once The Female experiences compassion and wants to be more human. The film then changes from one about a predator – with very striking visuals – to a film more about what exactly it means to be human (or not). And I guess that’s all I will say about the plot.
As numerous people have noted, Johansson is magnificent, particularly in the second half of the film, where she is required to be almost childlike. But the film around her is also something special, something unique, and beautiful and thought-provoking.
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. Only Lovers Left Alive, directed by Jim Jarmusch (9/10)
This might be the only vampire film in existence with zero violence. (I doubt that’s much of an exaggeration.) Jarmusch takes a far different approach with this genre and, like his other genre movies, he renders it far more similar to his own films than to others in the genre. The idea makes perfect sense to me: vampires that are bored and infinitely knowledgeable, rather than vampires hell bent on conquering humans. The portrait is compelling and far more realistic (I use the term loosely) than the vast majority of vampire films.
It also functions as a bit of allegory for where the planet is at the moment (though it’s not exactly subtle about it) and so it’s got subtext that most vampire films do not.
In fact, I think this is probably Jarmusch’s second best film; certainly it is among his richest, filled with his characteristic stylistic touches and dry humour but less dawdling.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. All is Lost, directed by J.C. Chandor (9/10)
12. 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
13. The Crash Reel, directed by Lucy Walker (8/10)
14. Captain Phillips, directed by Paul Greengrass (8/10)
Politically clueless but otherwise excellent. Read the review.
15. The Armstrong Lie, directed by Alex Gibney (8/10)
This is a fascinating film. It began as a documentary about Lance Armstrong’s 2009 comeback attempt but, before it was finished, new allegations emerged about Armstrong’s use of performance-enhancing drugs and the film was eventually altered significantly to focus on the revelations that soon followed.
So there are really two movies that have been combined into one. One which may have started out as a puff piece and a sequel, as it were, that tries to figure out how so many people could have believed Armstrong for so long.
And it pretty much works. What we get is nuanced approach to the story, with far more detail – and far less moralizing – than we get with, say, TV journalism. Gibney was obviously a fan. But, to his credit, he wants to understand. And, to his credit and to his film’s, we get a complicated portrait of the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sports, that doesn’t just yell at us that “drugs are bad, cheating is worse” and leave things there.
Very much worth your time.
16. 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.
17. 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.
18. Before Midnight, directed by Richard Linklater (8/10)
Chapter 3 in everyone’s favourite European-style American romantic drama picks up with Jesse and Celine on vacation in Greece with their two kids. What began as a sort of male fantasy of a trip abroad has turned into perhaps the closest any American film has ever gotten to what a real relationship* (*between two smart people) is like. So many American films require plot to get in the way of characters but that is rarely Linklater’s problem. This third movie has much of the same directionless appeal and ambiguity about the future that the first two had. Maybe it resonates with me more than the second one given what I have personally experienced in the past few years, but I found the dynamic so familiar. And, at this point, with roughly 5 and a half hours under its belt, is there another American film series that can compare? I don’t know.
This is a mirror held up to (some of) us. Why can’t we be happy with what we have? Why can’t we give up our endless power struggles? Why can’t things be like they used to be?
19. 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.)
20. Horici ker aka Burning Bush, directed by Agnieszka Holland (8/10)
Though this is a TV mini series, I read it was screened in North America as an abridged film, so I’ve put it here. Read the review.
21. La vie d’Adele aka Blue is the Warmest Color directed by Abdellatif Kechiche (8/10)
22. 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.)
23. Blue Jasmine, directed by Woody Allen (8/10)
24. The Heat, directed by Paul Feig (8/10)
Really funny. Read the review.
25. 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.
26. 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).
The performances are all excellent – especially John Goodman, who is fantastic as a crotchety old, and possibly dying, jazz musician – and honestly I wanted to like it more than I did. But the Coens spend too much time on the music, for my tastes, and, though Isaac does a good job of balancing Davis, making him both thoroughly unlikable and sympathetic, there is just not quite enough here for me to care what happens to him.
There’s a lot here to like – the trip to Chicago, the cat and, as I already said, the acting – but I feel like the film adds up to less than the sum of its parts. It’s a decent idea with strong acting and direction searching for a greater meaningfulness, that seems to have eluded everyone (or perhaps just me).
27. 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.
28. Elysium, directed by Neil Blomkamp (7/10)
Like much good science fiction, this film is allegorical and the message is fairly powerful, if unsubtle.
Unfortunately, there are a few plot-holes / logic leaps that weaken the film, especially around the climax.
Otherwise it’s pretty decent.
29. After Tiller, directed by Martha Shane, Lana Wilson (7/10)
his 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.
The film is not going to change anyone’s mind – if you believe abortion is wrong, or if you believe late-term abortions are wrong, then you are unlikely to be convinced otherwise without experiencing the need for one yourself – and, of course, if you’re a man, that will never happen.
But this film does a great job of humanizing the patients (who are anonymous) who feel like they need these procedures, and who would likely have sought to perform amateur, illegal abortions if they didn’t have this option. It also does a great job of showing the bravery of these heroes – and I don’t use that term lightly. These four doctors have far more guts than
I have, and they are performing a necessary and harm-reducing role.
The film itself preaches to the choir and is a pretty conventional film, and so it’s not necessarily a great film. But it’s affecting, and it is a little alarming, given the ages of the doctors.
30. Buying Sex, directed by Teresa MacInnes, Kent Nason (7/10)
Very nuanced look at the issue of prostitution in Canada. Read the review of Buying Sex.
31. Don Jon, directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (7/10)
Surprising. Read the review of Don Jon.
32. The Best Offer, directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (7/10)
33. Muscle Shoals, directed by Greg Camalier (7/10)
This is a reasonably well-made “love letter” to both the original studio responsible for the “Muscle Shoals Sound” and the Swampers, the second studio band at FAME, whose musicians went off to set up their own studio after a while.
It’s competently made and features most of the iconic songs that came out of there. It’s not a great documentary but it does everything it sets out to do.
34. 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.
It’s fascinating because Burt is the face of the company, but is basically just a gun for hire, having been ousted from the company a number of years ago. He spends most of his time living on a property in Maine with no electricity. And the rest of his time he spends shilling for the company. The contradictions are fascinating and the man is fascinating. The film itself it a little uneven in terms of pacing, in my mind, but that is a minor quibble. This is certainly a compelling story and worth watching whether or not you have any knowledge of the products or the man.
35. 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.
36. Blackfish, directed by Gabriel Cowperthaite (7/10)
This is an affecting documentary about the problems of keeping Orcas in captivity for human amusement. It is completely one-sided – though that might be a ridiculous thing to say, given that there is no other side, as far as the orcas are concerned – but that is in part because Sea World wouldn’t participate.
The film raises questions about whether or not humans should be keeping animals (particularly large mammals) in captivity and, more specifically, working with them in close proximity. The main whale this movie focuses on had injured people before it killed someone. Other whales have also. It’s fair to say that nobody was properly trained and few people fully understood the risks. There are some serious issues here.
However, the film fails to address the demand problem: at what point do the patrons take responsibility for this? And that’s why I can’t rave about the film, even if it’s worth seeing.
37. 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.
It has a massive, massive problem: I believe one of the central premises of the film is how our educational institutions influence our children. And that’s all well and good – it’s a correct thesis. However, it’s kind of ridiculous to make a documentary about how that happens when the film itself is obviously having a huge affect on these kids too.
I just want to note, that Idris’ parents are the kind of parents that I am so, so, so fucking happy I never had. I am going to thank both of my parents the next time I see them in person for not being like this. Jesus Christ people, ask your kids what they want, don’t tell them what they want.
The film is flawed, but it’s ambitious enough that I still think it’s worth watching, despite its flaws. I don’t know of anything else like it on this subject.
38. 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.
39. 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.
40. Canopy, directed by Aaron Wilson (7/10)
The budget could be better but it’s an interesting attempt. Read the review of Canopy.
41. Bethlehem, directed by Yuval Adler (7/10)
This is a reasonably compelling film that appear to apply a sort of naturalistic, crime drama lens to the Israeli-Palestine conflict. There’s no soundtrack and everyone is working at being as realistic as possible in their performances. But the conflict really does feel like it’s been reduced to a crime story: an informant is put in a bad position when his handler targets his brother. That could be a crime plot.
It’s not that it’s a bad film. Everything about it is generally good. It’s just that it feels more than a little odd to reduce such a complicated situation to what feels like a game of cops and a few (seriously, at least three) dueling gangs.
42. Coherence, directed by James Ward Byrkit (6/10)
A good idea. Not the greatest execution. Read the review.
43. Bright Days Ahead, Marion Vernoux (6/10)
44. 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.
45. The World’s End, directed by Edgar Wright (6/10)
I didn’t like this at first: Gary is just too pathetic; it almost hurts. I get why people like this, as he’s realistic, but frankly I don’t know why these people would spend time with him.
But things really pick up when the twist happens, it’s really too bad that the previews and the publicity campaign ruined it.
I enjoyed the climactic joke, which I won’t reveal, as it is how I felt the first part of the film.
46. 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.)
But the documentary mostly acts as an extended promo film for the and though we have interviews with psychologists and the founders, we don’t really get as full insight into this whole thing as we might like. (And there is absolutely no criticism of the show.)
A better film would have delved deeper into the desires that not only bring participants to the show, but bring the audience, and would have offered at least some attempt at looking at the show in a light that isn’t “It’s just absolutely great what these people are doing.”
47. 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.
48. August: Osage County, directed by John Wells (6/10)
This is an adaptation of a play that fits in a long tradition of American melodramas for the stage which focus on awful families and mental illness (though, earlier in the tradition – such as with Tennessee Williams – the mental illness is implied).
Frankly, beyond the better acting and the use of modern medicine instead of alcohol as the medication, there isn’t much difference between this and something like a Tennessee Williams play, or Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf? And that’s one reason why I can’t love what is a well-filmed adaptation of this play featuring great actors. It’s just 21st century Tennessee Williams.
And, moreover, it’s hard to see how this is an improvement. The latent sexism of this tradition of American melodrama – that it’s the women who are at fault, with all their insanity, and the men are decent people just trying to cope – is really hard to take.
But I laughed. And this is perhaps the best performance of Julia Roberts’ career. (Or among the very best.) And everyone else is excellent. Streep chews through the scenery, but that’s the role (and the tradition) so it’s hard to fault her.
49. 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. In fact, the filmmakers are apparently very genuine in their attempt, ending the film with pictures of all the victims. (The film is also dedicated to all the victims.)
But in trying to make it accurate, they end up with an uneven film:
- Cage’s character is the protagonist but how much he is a human being and how much he is just a Driven Cop varies from scene to scene.
- Cusack is, as usual, miscast as the villain.
- The film cannot decide if it’s about Cage’s character or about the lone survivor – and at the end we are told it is her story, despite the fact that Cage’s character is treated as the lead most of the time.
It’s a bit of a mess, otherwise it wouldn’t have been half bad.
50. Anita, directed by Freida Lee Mock (6/10)
I was quite young when all this happened. All I really remember that she was “guilty.”
Well, watching this film nearly 25 years later, I am full of outrage; that this happened, that the mainstream media made an impression on 10-year-old me that this woman, who was just trying to do the right thing, could be a villain, that men behaved this way and continue to behave this way – both in harassing women sexually and denying women’s claims of sexual harassment. And really, she’s a hero. Even if she lied – and, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think she lied – she has helped change the US for the better.
This film though…the first part of it’s biased but good. The second part of it is hero worship, and lacks any kind of objectivity. It’s also exclusively focused on the US (which isn’t shocking). The second part of the film significantly weakens the first part, even though it’s nice to know that she has made such a difference in the lives of so many people.
51. 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.
52. 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. There was a lot less exposition of the mythology – we are plunged into the world this time, and it (mostly) assumed we know where we are.
But when the Third Quarter Quell stars, it’s deja vu all over again, as they say. Fortunately, this time around things are a little – and I mean slightly – more ambiguous, which is a breath of fresh air after the first movie’s so blatant Good Versus Evil dynamic. It’s still very simplistic, which is what we should expect from Young Adult stuff, and it would be nice if things weren’t so damn transparent in terms of where this is going eventually, but at least this movie made me guess a few times, and at least this movie made me think, if only for a minute, that a few more people might not make it.
53. 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.
On the other hand, both Wright and Watts are fantastic – though, as others have pointed out, Watts is a little young for her role – and everyone else is fine. And part of it feels like sort of a feminist response or rebuttal to so many films through the years that have celebrated relationships between young women and old men.
Unfortunately there’s not enough positive to let you forget about the contrivance that is the plot at the heart of the film, and so despite the commendable performances it’s hard for me to really like this.
54. Blutgletscher aka 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 to much interpersonal conflict. The actors are all very capable but the story asks them to get downright hysterical often times just over each other’s actions rather than over the threat of death. The creatures are revealed a little early though that is, I guess, necessary to help explain what is going on. Also, there is some odd use of tinting that really isn’t required.
On the other hand, there are some really entertaining sequences and some good characters, a sparing use of CGI – which I feel has become a crutch for many filmmakers, though this film has its bad moments too: fire still looks terrible when it is CGI – and a unique ending that, though it doesn’t satisfy, is at least unconventional. So I’m kind of torn, I really liked it in places, and I like how the creatures are mostly homemade, but then at other times I was getting downright annoyed at some of the story / directorial decisions.
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.
55. 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).
As the film progresses, it gets more and more preposterous / goofy, but it is anchored enough in believable characters – save, perhaps, Cusack’s – that it is far ridiculous than its Netflix description made it sound. (The ex and I watched it for a laugh, and for the first third of the movie, I thought I might actually be watching a good film.)
I couldn’t really handle the third act – though it is far less ridiculous than many modern thrillers’ third acts – but the film was still way, way better than I was expecting.
56. 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? I mean Gojira and its offspring aren’t exactly smart movies, and they aren’t exactly the picture of high production values.
But Del Toro goes really big, and going so big he seems to have won a lot of people over. I’m not sure bigger is better – though if you’re going to make a giant monster movie, bigger is indeed better – and I find myself wondering if this could have been just…you know, more fun. Only one scene is really wholly played for laughs, when really shouldn’t the whole movie be? I mean, otherwise it doesn’t work, at least for me.
Despite what anyone tells you the original Gojira isn’t a great movie – though it certainly is an important movie – and the sequels are worse (at least those that I’ve seen). But at least that film made some sense; it was a response, of sorts, to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
This film does not have that subtext, and so instead it’s just the good humans versus the bad aliens, and we know how it will turn out because we’ve seen this before time and again.
57. Kill Your Darlings, directed by John Krokidas (5/10)
58. Lee Daniels’ The Butler, directed by Lee Daniels (5/10)
A mess. Read the review.
59. Oblivion, directed by Joseph Kosinski (5/10)
Point form review:
- It’s never a good thing when your film opens with 5 minutes of expository narration.
- Everything looks like the ‘70s version of futuristic.
- The Scavengers remind me of Jawas.
- There’s not much of an explanation as to why sometimes boats are higher than opera houses…
- Plot feels pretty telegraphed.
- Flight recorder is in the wrong module! Major continuity error.
- Otherwise, I guess it’s half decent.
60. Belle, directed by Amma Asante (5/10)
This would be a nice corrective if it was true. Otherwise, this is a typically stuffy period drama with the usual whispering, outbursts and marriage-arrangements; a genre I usually cannot abide.
Telling the story of a mulatto woman in this position is a nice take on it, as would telling the story of a judicial ruling that helped to overturn slavery. But quick googling indicates that the two aren’t really as related as they are portrayed in the movie. Now, I don’t always quibble with historical accuracy – I believe in poetic license – but in this case it’s too much of a stretch; there is certainly no reason to expect that this woman had anything to do with the ruling made by her adopted father, or that he was so vociferously anti-slavery.
My feeling is that these are two different stories, and conflating them weakens both.
61. 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.
It gets off to a good start: I just recently watched Departures for the first time in years, intending on re-watching the show – but then I forgot how annoying the hosts were. This movie starts off just like that show. It’s a neat concept and that part is really dead on.
- Like all found footage films, the film struggles to make the concept work the longer it goes on.
- The blog aspect of it is a neat twist but unfortunately the entire world would have been onto this while it was airing on the blog, so that doesn’t work.
- If the vampire version we see here really was real, we’d all be dead already, so that doesn’t work either.
- Finally, the “good vampire” thing at the end is dumb.
62. 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.
63. The Last Stand, directed by Kim Jee-woon (5/10)
This is a really, really dumb movie that manages to make up for its numerous leaps of logic with lots of humour, some of which is surprisingly clever (especially for such an otherwise dumb movie). Particularly there are a number of film convention jokes – an alien movie convention, a serial killer movie convention and a number of western conventions – that surprised the hell out of me – as well as sometimes made me laugh – given that the plot is so unbelievably stupid. This makes for a surprisingly entertaining film and one that is somehow clever in its dumbness.
64. 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.
65. 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. I mean, this is a zombie movie, there should be gore.
Now, I haven’t read the source material, and I can understand why people who loved the book might hate this – evidently the source material is significantly different – but as a standalone movie this would have worked for me, even with the plot holes, had they not thought so much about the bottom-line in aiming for that teen-friendly rating. It’s the rating, I think, that kills this.
66. 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. In The X-Men films, at least, he’s never quite committed to the project, so there’s always a little bit of doubt that he’ll show up for the fight. That’s how they’re supposed to sell him as “human.”
But on his own, well he’s just unstoppable, just like Superman. Remove that cynical, angry exterior and there’s no challenge for us viewers. And unfortunately this film dose just that, giving him a new love interest, so we know he’ll care despite his slight setback.
But I feel like that would all be forgivable if this wasn’t set in a caricature of Japan. Could we please have an American action film set in Japan that doesn’t involve both the Yakuza and Ninjas? Gee, that would be nice. But I can’t imagine any Hollywood screenwriter – or, I guess in this case, American comic book writer – imagining a Japan without either. They’re just so easy as crutches.
67. 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. This film needs to be a lot funnier work.
Instead, it’s more dark than comedy. I suspect the novel is a lot funnier. And I think that a director like Boyle can handle this stuff a lot better than this guy. (This is from another Irvine Welsh novel.) Everything is a little off, specifically the humour, which is not present enough (or, perhaps, just not funny enough). Sometimes it actually feels like it’s trying to be a horror movie, which is odd.
So he cannot find a good enough balance. It’s a bit of a mess and that’s a shame because it wastes a very strong lead performance.
68. Hell Baby, directed by Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon (5/10)
This is not a good movie. But I laughed rather a lot. Read the review of Hell Baby.
69. The Fifth Estate, directed by Bill Condon (4/10)
70. 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.”
71. Thor: The Dark World, directed by Alan Taylor (4/10)
I think this would be better as an animated feature, it’s so over the top for live action, it’s just too fantastic. It’s silly and barely grounded in any kind of relatable “world.” I don’t understand why people like this stuff. The human characters play so small a role it’s hard for the audience to identify with anyone playing a significant part.
72. Riddick, directed by David Twohy (4/10)
I enjoyed Pitch Black when I came out as I was young enough. But the sequel felt like a completely different movie with its own universe and everything.
This film, at least, returns to the style of the original. But it’s essentially a remake of that film with rain substituted for night fall. The entire thing is a Vin Diesel movie cliche.
73. Ender’s Game, directed by Gavin Hood (4/10)
74. 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.
75. 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.
76. 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.
It’s still significantly better than the films of his I have seen from this year when Statham tries to do different things. At least here we get to tick our Jason Statham Film boxes. That should count for something.
Note: my review of this isn’t longer because somehow the wife and I watched everything but the climax months ago, and then forgot we didn’t finish the movie until today.
77. Oldboy, directed by Spike Lee (4/10)
What the fuck did Spike Lee do to Oldboy? Read the full review.
78. Dom Hemingway, directed by Richard Shepard (4/10)
Well, this ostensible tale of redemption has no idea what it wants to be. At times, it’s clearly attempting to be a rather black comedy, though I laughed a whole three times – though all three were out loud – and at other times it’s an overly serious drama, complete with cliche soundtrack. And there are chapter headings for reasons that escape me. And there are a whole host of loose ends and plot wholes.
Law tries his ass off to make a thoroughly unlikable character – who appears obsessed with his own supposed legend – somewhat likable. And if I thought the character made sense throughout the whole film, I might think he did a great job. (I will say one thing, the character’s got a really developed backstory, unlike a number of other characters in the film, who feel much more like cut-outs.) But the film around him is so tonally challenged and so over the top in its extremes that it’s hard to even admire the performance that much.
79. Broken City, directed by Allen Hughes (4/10)
80. R.I.PD., directed by Robert Schwentke (4/10)
The first few minutes of this film make it clear that it is a comic book adaptation. I already dislike a film like this, when implausible stuff like that happens. And within maybe 10 minutes or so, it’s apparent that this is a massive Men in Black ripoff. (Whether or not the comic book is such a rip off, the movie sure is.)
But despite that massive problem – and many others – I can’t help but say it is amusing a lot of the time. A number of things made me laugh, even though I recognized massive problems with the film. (Here is another example: Apparently only Americans die in this universe, as there are only American RIPDs.)
But the ending rips off Ghostbusters just a tad – not to the extent that the actual movie rips off Men in Black – and sometimes the hokiness is just too much to take.
But still, as flops go, this is entertaining.
81. 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 and though I know that sometimes effective satire doesn’t have to be funny, this isn’t particularly clever either.
The problem is that they haven’t written a strong enough story to build the satire on, and as a result the jokes aren’t broad enough. Normally, that’s a good thing, but this movie, with its weak story, needed to go more in the Scary Movie parody mode if it was going to be funnier. Not wholly into that mode, of course, but enough that we the audience might recognize a few more of the gags, rather than just wondering why the film wasn’t funnier.
82. Child of God, directed by James Franco (4/10)
83. Broken, directed by Bright Wonder Obasi (4/10)
84. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, directed by Harald Zwart (4/10)
Well, it could have been worse. Read the review.
85. Gangster Squad, directed by Reuben Fleischer (3/10)
This is a colossally dumb movie that wastes an absolutely fantastic cast.
86. Furious 6, directed by Justin Long (3/10)
87. 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.
In this film he has a daughter somehow – we don’t know how – and so it’s his daughter that causes the initial misunderstanding. Statham and daughter try to warn them, but these people just never listen. I mean, he doesn’t want to beat the shit out of everyone, but if he has to, he will.
Franco is miscast as the bad guy – though he tries hard – and Ryder does basically nothing.
We are left with Statham killing / mauling a bunch of disposable characters – as per usual – in somewhat bizarre situations.
This film, like so many other “misunderstood individualist in Small Town America” films, has to try to hard to set up the misunderstandings. And the whole thing unfolds like some kind of unfunny bad joke about a clan war.
And the reason why this film is worse than most Statham movies is Statham really doesn’t do all that much Stathaming, in part because he is just trying to be left alone, which makes it a lot more boring.
88. 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. Knight gives Statham an elaborate Rambo-eque backstory and Statham tries to not be Jason Statham, Action Star, and we don’t believe it for a second because, of course, Jason Statham doesn’t really have a lot of range.
And so we get another boring, cliche movie, where we’re expecting lots of action, but where we get limited amounts – and much of it in a very silly montage – and so we are treated to actual Drama – albeit very cliche drama, even the female lead’s career as a nun cannot prevent the required romantic entanglement – which nobody in this film is very good at, the crew or the cast.
Also, we are expected that a drunk former soldier earns his redemption via identify theft, Good Works, and throwing a guy off a building…
89. 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; tonally everything is off. I was actually surprised to find out that they had directed other films, because this movie feels like the work of first time filmmakers. They introduce the feud and interpersonal relationships so poorly that you are left wondering why everyone is so angry at each other. And it’s a slow reveal, but it’s so poorly handled that you don’t give a shit when it’s revealed because, well, you already don’t care about these unlikable people, and, well, you can sort of see it coming.
Blood feuds in modern films are inherently ridiculous but if the feud is handled right as it’s been handled well in a number of excellent recent thrillers – see Blue Ruin at the top of this page – it can work. But it’s not handled well here.
It’s nice that some minor role actors get major roles, but the kids at the centre of the film are not great either, and so it’s hard to be happy about how this at least gives more screen time to a couple “Hey, it’s that Guy”s.
90. 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.
But this is damning with faint praise; the original was terrible and my rating of 2/10 feels charitable in hindsight. This film is better but it is still worse than mediocre.
For one thing, it doesn’t know what it is: the first section of the film is played more for laughs than for anything else, and then the film gets pretty serious. Is this change in tone an attempt to get the audience to feel the import of the disaster that has fallen the joes? Because all it really does is make one wish for the earlier section; it wasn’t funny but at least they weren’t taking the cartoon-based plot seriously. It’s hard to take this whole thing seriously and it’s kind of embarrassing how seriously everyone appears to be taking themselves. This was originally a cartoon show; shouldn’t the whole thing be slightly in jest?
91. 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.
92. 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.
93. Are All Men Pedophiles? directed by Jan-Willem Breure (3/10)
94. 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.
95. 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…
96. The Purge, directed by James DeMonaco (2/10)
97. 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).
The movie has too many flaws to mention, but here are a few:
- The relationships aren’t believable at any level (I’m not sure whether it’s just the acting or the staging).
- Nobody does anything that makes any sense ever – people see this sick girl and they do the opposite of what any person would actually do in that situation (as does the girl herself).
- And nothing happens.
I mean, I’m not one of these people who needs a “plot”, but there is nothing happening here – I mean there’s no real story beyond what you can read about the movie on Netflix and the characters are so wholly unlikable that you don’t care what happens to them, in fact you sort of hope the protagonist dies, and soon. Because frankly, its just insanely boring.
98. Sharknado, directed by Anthony C. Ferrante (1/10)
I really don’t have any words for this.
Nothing about it is done even remotely professionally:
- we get stock footage,
- horrible CGI,
- a complete lack of interest in making anything remotely believable
- and dialogue which mostly feels like it was recorded on a sound-stage during rehearsals or something.
I understand that this movie isn’t supposed to be any good, but it is really really bad. I mean, everything about it is bad from the writing, to the acting, to every single aspect of the production.
The highlight of the entire film is how it ends “fin.” What a joke!
99. 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.
- They don’t understand that insects and arachnids are different creatures, and that is just the very beginning.
- These spiders are from space, and I don’t mean from another planet. I mean, they are living in a vacuum at the beginning, which is impossible.
- The army wants them for their bullet-proof webbing. When doesn’t the army want aliens?
- The film uses maybe five sets total. Everything else is re-used. And it is more obvious than in most movies I’ve seen.
- The CGI is uniformly terrible.
- Oh and everything in this film already happened in either Arachnophobia or Eight Legged Freaks or various “disaster” or “outbreak” movies from the last decade or so.
There is nothing redeeming about this movie. It’s just brutal.
100. 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.”