2013 certainly was a good year at the movies. Hollywood is expected to rake in around 11 billion dollars in box office receipts, the largest annual haul ever. Sure, there were some major flops at the theater- The Lone Ranger performed poorly for Disney, After Earth was another big budget disappointment from former wunderkind M. Night Shyamalan, and R.I.P.D. proved to be another loser for star Ryan Reynolds. But there were some great successes as well. Comic book movies from Marvel continued with strong showings, with Iron Man 3 raking in 1.2 billion and Thor: The Dark World did nicely as well. The Wolverine won back audiences after the debacle that was Origins. For rival DC, Man of Steel proved to be a winner, showing that someone else other than Gotham’s Dark Knight could put people in the seats. And Peter Jackson once again proved that Tolkien’s Middle-Earth is still a cash cow as fans eagerly attended showings of the second Hobbit movie, The Desolation of Smaug.
Unfortunately, this past year I didn’t get to see nearly as many movies as I would have liked. Those I hope to catch up on in 2014 (before falling behind on that year’s movies!) include some of the more dramatic and critically acclaimed fare such as 12 Years A Slave, her, Captain Phillips, American Hustle, and The Wolf of Wall Street. I also missed some of those bigger popcorn movies like Fast & Furious 6, Ender’s Game, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Disney’s Frozen. Hopefully I will get to all of those early on in 2014, so for now they’re being left off of my top 10 list for 2013’s films. I won’t touch on every single movie I’ve seen beyond the top 10, but I’ll touch on some of them.
I’ll start this by getting those bad films out of the way first. My ratings will be in parentheses following the film’s title. Horror films made up a majority of the low end of my list, but they weren’t the only genre at the bottom. My pick for Worst Movie of the Year for 2013 goes to the alien abduction flick Dark Skies (2/10). Terrible, histrionic acting and implausible reactions to bizarre events just doomed this horror movie from the start. Faring only slightly better was yet another remake/reboot of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Texas Chainsaw (3/10). Sadly, the movie only started to get interesting towards the end, but by then it was too late. Sharknado (4/10) was ridiculously entertaining and a huge hit for the SyFy Channel, but it was a god-awful movie and yet another reason why MST3K needs to make a comeback. Two fine comedians in Steve Carrell and Jim Carrey flopped in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (4/10), and two other comedies, Identity Thief (4/10) and The Internship (4/10) also feel flat, despite having a talented cast. The Purge (4/10) had an interesting if outlandish premise- that for one night, all crime was permitted as a way of keeping crime rates low across the nation. It tried in part to be a tale of the haves versus the have nots (something the sci-fi flick Elysium did better), but it fell victim to its characters being overly stupid and making poor choices.
James Wan’s horror film The Conjuring (5/10) fared a little better, though for me the creepiest part of this movie was the discordant music that played over the end credits. Most of the film was very predictable and by the numbers for me, where I could fairly easily guess what was coming next. Add to that characters I didn’t truly care about, despite decent performances by Vera Farmiga and Lili Taylor, and this movie didn’t nearly match the scares claimed by its ad campaign. Michael Bay’s based on a true story Pain and Gain (5/10) wasn’t a hit with me. either. Again, too many characters doing stupid things that I just couldn’t care. Had the film been funny that would’ve helped. Sadly, I didn’t find it to have many laughs.
M. Night Shyamalan, who started off with a great trifecta (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs), has fallen into a tailspin since his fourth flick, The Village. After Earth (5/10) proved to be yet another disappointing outing, though it was far better than The Happening. The effects were decent and the father/son team of Will and Jaden Smith did their best with a script that just at times dragged and was often predictable, making the movie fall short of what it could have been. A shame it wasn’t better, since 2013 saw its share of some truly decent sci-fi. Europa Report (7/10) was a lower budget film that had some interesting ideas, and movies like Oblivion (8.5), Elysium (8/10), and the giant monsters fighting giant robots flick Pacific Rim (8/10) all fared well, with some great premises, good acting, and terrific visual effects. It was nice to see these higher concept films being pulled off, and it helped immeasurably that they were helmed by directors who had fared well in the genre before- Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion) did well with the sequel TRON: Legacy, Neill Blomkamp (Elysium) proved that his first outing District 9 was no fluke, and Guillermo del Toro (Pacific Rim) brought his great attention to detail to the conflict between the Kaiju and the Jaeger, just as he had to the more fantastical realms in his Hellboy movies and Pan’s Labyrinth.
Another huge disappointment was The Lone Ranger, a bomb for Disney that was budgeted at an estimated 215 million and only grossed to date a bit over 89 million. Armie Hammer was fine in the titular role as lawyer John Reid who turned vigilante after his brother, Texas Ranger Dan Reid, was murdered by the outlaw Butch Cavendish. But it was Johnny Depp who was much of the film’s focus, and it seemed far too often he was just channeling Jack Sparrow through Tonto. It didn’t help that director Gore Verbinski couldn’t seem to strike the right tone between comedy and being a more serious minded, traditional Western. The cartoonish bits seemed out of place with the more serious elements of the film, making for a very uneven experience, despite some relatively entertaining set pieces. At least it was better than the 1981 effort to bring the character to the big screen.
A lot of movies seem to fall in the middle of the road category for me, in that they were neither very good nor were they bad. I ended up with eleven movies getting a rating of 6/10, in various genres- action (Snitch, A Good Day to Die Hard), thriller (Side Effects, Trance, Paranoia), comedy (Admission), drama (Broken City), and animated flicks (Planes, The Croods). Also in the 6/10 range was the watchable but about twenty years too late R.I.P.D. and the amped up retelling of Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. Doing slightly better was the horror remake/reboot Evil Dead (6.5/10), which, while decent viewing, lacked the charms of the Sam Raimi original. Then we had the two similarly themed movies, both a sort of Die Hard in the White House, with one (Olympus Has Fallen- 7.5/10) doing better than the other (White House Down- 6.5/10). Both were entertaining, but the Gerard Butler movie just hit home better than the Channing Tatum/Jamie Foxx team-up.
Moving on, we get to the honorable mentions, those movies that fell just short of making my top 10, all but one (Oblivion- 8.5/10) scoring an 8/10 from me. These included the Arnold Schwarzenegger come back, The Last Stand, the Guillermo del Toro produced ghost story Mama, the zombie love story Warm Bodies, the fantasy flicks Oz the Great and Powerful and Jack the Giant Slayer, the thriller Dead Man Down with Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace, the very fun Pacific Rim, the better than its predecessor G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the magician heist thriller Now You See Me, the Baz Luhrman adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and the Matt Damon sci-fi tale of rich versus poor Elysium. And now we get to my top 10. Understand this is my personal list, and there are a few movies which may have been included if I had gotten to see them this year.
10. Thor: The Dark World (8.5/10)- An improvement over the first film, with Alan Taylor staging some truly epic battle scenes. Chris Hemsworth has definitely solidified himself in the title role, and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki makes for one of the most likeable villains in a comic book film.
9. The Wolverine (8.8/10)- Again, an improvement over the first film (which, after the first half hour, is quite bad). James Mangold takes over the reins and delivers for the most part with this story set in Japan, based on the work done by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. It falls off a bit in the final half hour, but not enough to ruin the movie, and the post credits scene is a must see for X-Men fans.
8. Iron Man 3 (9/10)- Some were dissatisfied with this film’s treatment of the villain The Mandarin, but for me the way the character was portrayed worked well for the movie. Robert Downey Jr. played the traumatized Tony Stark well, showing us that the suit does not make the hero alone, but that the man inside does.
7. Star Trek: Into Darkness (9/10)- Benedict Cumberbatch made for a truly fantastic villain in this worthy sequel to J.J. Abrams reboot of the iconic sci-fi franchise. The rest of the cast (Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, and Simon Pegg) all rose to the occasion in an exciting movie highlighted by some outstanding visual effects.
6. World War Z (9/10)- More of a prequel to the Max Brooks novel detailing the zombie war, this Brad Pitt led horror/sci-fi proved you don’t always need buckets of blood to make a tense, exciting zombie thriller.
5. A Hijacking (9/10)- The Tom Hanks film Captain Phillips wasn’t the only movie this year dealing with piracy, and this Danish film succeeded on a number of levels, including giving us likeable characters aboard the freighter besieged by pirates and the tense struggles in the company boardroom on how to best handle the crisis.
4. 42 (9/10)- The biopic of Jackie Robinson, who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier. Chadwick Boseman was excellent in the role of Robinson, as he struggled to gain acceptance among his fellow white players, and Harrison Ford gives a strong performance as executive Branch Rickey, who signed Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers.
3. Stoker (9/10)- A haunting thriller, with a chilling performance by Mia Wasikowska that sticks with you after the credits have rolled. Expertly shot by Oldboy director Chan-wook Park, this tale of murder and a dysfunctional family is one of the best suspense flicks that will keep you glued to the screen.
2. Man of Steel (9.5/10)- Director Zack Snyder (Watchmen, Sucker Punch, 300) teams up with producer Christopher Nolan (the Dark Knight trilogy) to bring DC’s iconic superhero to the big screen in spectacular fashion. The film works on so many levels, from its lead Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Superman to Amy Adams as a spunky and intelligent Lois Lane, from the stunning visuals depicting Krypton to the final battle through Metropolis. Russell Crowe was outstanding as Jor-El and Kevin Costner made for a great Jonathan Kent, and Michael Shannon delivered in spades as the villainous General Zod. As a movie that DC is planning to build its future movie universe on, Man of Steel makes one hell of a terrific foundation.
And my favorite movie of the year for 2013 is-
1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (10/10)- Peter Jackson upped the ante in this second outing in his Hobbit trilogy, making this a much faster moving and more entertaining experience. From the opening as the dwarves, Bilbo, and the wizard Gandalf are pursued by the orcs and take refuge in shapeshifter Beorn’s house, the movie was off and running, only occasionally slowing down to let the audience catch its breath. The 3D was used to great effect, giving a nice depth to the scenes and making Mirkwood’s spiders all the more creepier and frightening. The additions to Tolkien’s work were wonderful. Evangeline Lilly’s character of Tauriel was a nice addition, and working in fan favorite Legolas (Orlando Bloom) from The Lord of the Rings films gave us some thrilling sequences of the character in combat. The whole sequence of the barrel escape from the wood elves was ramped up from the book, giving dwarf Bombur his time to shine. And then there was the dragon. Benedict Cumberbatch made for a truly menacing Smaug, and the visual effects team brought him to life in stunning fashion. Top notch from the exciting beginning to its cliffhanger ending, this is one of the movies I felt deserved that rare perfect score, and as its predecessor was for me in 2012, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug secured the top spot for me in 2013, and has me eagerly awaiting the trilogy’s conclusion next year.
So, that’s my journey through cinema for 2013. What were your favorite movies of this past year? Did I hit on some of those favorites, or do you think I was way off base? Let us know in the comments below, and here’s looking forward to another great year at the movies in 2014.
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