2013’s Best and Worst Movies


2013 was one tough, frustrating, and eventful slog of a year! We saw corporations, governments and celebrities taking steep dives into oblivion and irrelevance. We saw sporting greats, politicians, and journalists become idiots, and Ben Affleck redeem himself with a hearty Academy Awards speech. 2013 in cinema was also a mixed bag. The Oscar season drew to a close in spectacular fashion whilst Hollywood comedies hit one new low after another (seriously, don’t ever watch Movie 43!). Over the past couple of years, the internet age has soured our way of analysing movies and expressing opinions. The influx of articles (highlighting the exhaustive amount of set pictures, marketing ploys, trailers, and interviews that come with every Hollywood movie) and fiery internet comment sections have distorted our idea of what big-budget movies could and should be. Some movies bombed miraculously (The Lone RangerAfter Earth) while others soared up into the sky in more ways than one (Iron Man 3, Gravity). I looked back on 2013’s crop of movies to give several of them my own kooky form of gratitude. PS. these lists only include movies I saw at the cinemas, and reviewed, this year despite significant release date shifts.

PPS. Judged specifically between January 1st, 2013 – December 31st, 2013.

Best Movies of 2013

10. Stoker

Pulling us into his spooky yet enrapturing style, South Korean director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) continues his stellar run with Stoker. This scintillating drama-thriller, dripping with punishing character motivations and sexual awakenings, is one of 2013’s surprise hits. Mia Wasikowska delivers a career-defining performance, along the way. It even brought Nicole Kidman’s acting talents back from the grave. Very spooky, indeed.

9. Flight

From take off to landing, Flight is a profound and enthralling character study. Following Denzel Washington’s depraved yet regret-filled anti-hero, director Robert Zemeckis’ latest drama delves into a life worth salvaging. Peppered with hysterical supporting characters, an intense plane crash sequence, and compelling dialogue moments, Flight soars higher than anyone had anticipated.

8. Django Unchained

Pulling its punches at every correct moment, Django Unchained illustrates that acclaimed writer/director Quentin Tarantino still has what it takes. Proudly earning the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, this spaghetti western ably transition into an African-American revenge fantasy. Chilling performances, a kinetic soundtrack, and excessively powerful blood splatters enhance this comedically frantic romp.

7. Side Effects

Turning up the heat on its morally ambiguous characters, Side Effects caps off director Steven Soderberg’s sterling career with style. His entertaining directorial style, trademarking his many thought-provoking efforts, boosts this disturbing drug-addled drama. Brilliant performances (from Rooney Mara and Jude law, in particular), valuable messages, and a startling attention to detail develop an addictive and infectious psychosexual thriller.

 

6. Captain Phillips

As the sea-fairing version of United 93Captain Phillips is a tightly edited, claustrophobic, and exhilarating hostage-thriller. Tom Hanks’ emphatic performance as the titular hero earns him yet another Oscar nomination. Excruciatingly tense throughout its taut run-time, the movie places a real-world sheen on the hostage-thriller genre. Credit, of course, goes to director Paul Greengrass for delivering yet another fearless and detailed post-9/11 drama. Despite the intensifying material, this is a profound roller-coaster ride.

5.  Prisoners

Touching upon media-powered fear-mongering and suburbia’s darkest secrets, Prisoners is an intense, expansive, and gripping crime-thriller. With an ingenious narrative and remarkable performances, this kidnap-drama explores one man’s actions during a worse case scenario. Switching it from kidnap-drama to torture-thriller, director Dennis Villeneuve keeps us guessing throughout. In addition, Roger Deakins’ pulsating cinematography lends dimensions and malice to this already engaging drama-thriller.

4. American Hustle

With money, hair, boobs, and attitudes sent flying across morose settings, American Hustle develops one enlightening dialogue sequence after another. Director David O. Russell’s style lends itself to this intricate and enigmatic crime-drama. Based on a bizarre true story, this con-man flick breaks the rules and delivers thrills, laughs, and noteworthy performances. Christian Bale and Amy Adams soar above everyone else in this juicy and scintillating puzzle.

3. Rush

Speeding through Rush‘s purposeful run-time, the two lead characters face off in a heated battle for glory and respect. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl fill out these roles with passion and, ahem, drive. Acclaimed director Ron Howard builds the tempo with the exhilarating and intensifying race sequences. Ultimately, Rush is a visually stimulating and attentive docudrama. Pushing its narrative with brute force, this enjoyable sports-drama moves at the speed of light.

2. Zero Dark Thirty

Longingly delving into the 21st century’s hottest topic, Zero Dark Thirty is a sickening, honest, and visceral sensory assault. Drawing a line between explosive action-war flick and extensive procedural drama, director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal make for a kinetic and exciting duo. In addition, the final action sequence is worth the price of admission. With intensifying set-pieces, cutting dialogue, and an acute attention to detail, this war-drama deserves repeat viewings.

1. Gravity

Reaching for the stars, Gravity is an engaging, thought-provoking, attentive, and intensifying sci-fi action flick. As edge-of-your-seat entertainment, this sci-fi extravaganza holds steady throughout its taut 90-minute run-time. Director Alfonso Cuaron’s heartening style throws the audience into an engaging survival tale. Unlike most blockbusters, every detail serves a specific and profound purpose. With Sandra Bullock and George Clooney delivering charismatic performances, the heartening story stands up to the electrifying and breath-taking technical achievements. This is cinema at its most ambitious and entertaining!

Honourable Mentions:

The Hunger Games: Catching FireHarry Dean Stanton: Partly FictionLincolnSilver Linings PlaybookLife of Pi

Biggest Surprises:

World War Z2 GunsWarm Bodies, Olympus Has FallenPain & Gain20 Feet from StardomThe Last Stand

Great movies I caught later on:

The ConjuringYou’re Next42Mud

Worst movies of 2013

5. The Great Gatsby

Director Baz Luhrmann, once again, chooses style over substance when bringing a renowned story to the big screen. His version of The Great Gatsby, despite its positive elements, tries and fails to capture Hollywood’s true power. Choosing glitter cannons and anachronistic music cues over efficient story-telling intricacies, Luhrmann frustrated audiences everywhere with this overlong, hollow, and vacuous adaptation. From here on out, he should keep his favourite stories to himself.

4. The Bling Ring

bling-ringSpending 90 minutes with these five mean-spirited, inane, and self-indulgent people is a torturous concept. Add director Sofia Coppola’s undercooked style to the mix, and The Bling Ring becomes even worse. Despite the visual flourishes, Coppola mishandles the bizarre and thought-provoking material. This repetitive, vapid, and uninspiring docu-drama wastes the audience and Emma Watson’s precious time. It’s about as scintillating as watching your bestie go shopping for six hours straight.

3. The Hangover Part 3

As painful and time consuming as an actual hangover, this unnecessary, cynical, and brainless third instalment officially wears out the Hangover series’ welcome. Featuring an underdeveloped heist-thriller plot, useless villains, laugh-less stretches, and screechy supporting characters, this instalment is little more than a made-by-focus-group big-budget comedy. Adding to the already disastrous year for Hollywood comedy, The Hangover Part 3 is an unforgivable, bland and stupefying waste of time, money, and resources.

2. A Good Day to Die Hard

Destroying John McCLane’s good name, A Good Day to Die Hard (2013’s worst movie title) is a silly, forgettable, and torturous action flick. Divorced from the 1986 classic, and even its worthwhile sequels, this series hit an embarrassing new low with this instalment. Sleep-walking through another action movie role, Bruce Willis has all but given up on regaining his charismatic and magnetic former self. However, after this instalment, everyone has given up on him.

1. Machete Kills 

Director Robert Rodriguez needs to take a gigantic step back from the director’s chair after this self-indulgent, cheap, and stupefying sequel. Dragging a good cast and intriguing concepts through the Mexican desert, Machete Kills is an unwelcome and uninspired sequel to an already forgettable original feature. Removed from its faux-trailer roots, the Machete franchise contains only 2-3 minutes of engaging and fun material. Sadly, this movie’s marks this A-list director’s fall from grace. Having once made stunning action flicks, Machete Kills strips him of his valour. For shame!

Dishonourable Mentions:

RiddickNow You See MeHansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

Biggest Disappointments: 

Gangster SquadOnly God ForgivesThe Fifth EstateThe ButlerAmourThe Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Atrocious movies I caught later on:

RIPDAfter EarthThe Lone RangerSpring BreakersKick-Ass 2Identity ThiefThe Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Movie 43, Jack the Giant SlayerThe Family

2013 Oscars Wrap-up


Hollywood has now spent 85 years celebrating its own astonishing achievements. What happens when you pat yourself on the back for this long? Do you ignore everyone’s screechy protests or, next time around, cater to the lowest common denominator? This year’s Oscars ceremony tried to have its cake and eat it too. There were some tears, laughs and the occasional tumble on the stage. But it still just wasn’t a particularly rousing event.

Seth Macfarlane had a gargantuan amount of expectations piled on top of him. 2012 was his year- giving him a hit film and the name recognition he deserved. His controversial comedic style and charisma had been brought to the stage many times before. So he should’ve been perfect for this particular event. Unfortunately, he only did a ‘meh’ job. Sure, he was a hoot. His charming grin and unique stance can make anyone feel comfortable. His voice is too a strange comfort. Yet his material on Oscar night flew over everyone’s heads. Normally given 7-8 minutes to introduce the ceremony, the host should try to get in and out succinctly. MacFarlane look close to 20 mins just to prove his point. His hit and miss style didn’t suit an already uptight crowd. Calling out Quentin Tarantino for using the ‘N-word’ in Django Unchained was just too brash. Macfarlane then fell back on Star Trek humour, silly voices and songs (as he always does). His sock puppet re-creation of Flight, however, hit the target. His song ‘we saw your Boobs’ was both vigorous and aided by hilarious audience participation (Naomi Watts chimed in in just the right way).

Academy Awards host Seth MacFarlane.

MacFarlane’s opening, however, was nowhere near as bad as some of the other skits. Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy’s sketch bombed miserably. It wasn’t all bad though. Channing Tatum and Jennifer Aniston put their comedic skills to good use. I suspect, however, that Tatum’s ‘waxing’ quip had something to do with his ‘balls-out’ performance in Magic Mike. With the jokes as hit and miss as the speeches, it was up to The Avengers to once again save the day. Robert Downey jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner and Samuel L. Jackson have obviously developed a significant amount of chemistry. Besides, who doesn’t love seeing Samuel L. Jackson yell at people? The star of the night, however, was James Bond. The tribute, celebrating 50 years of Bond, shook and stirred everyone watching. After a rather confused and schizophrenic montage, Shirley Bassey lit up the stage with her rendition of Goldfinger. Adele also stole the show with her huge yet elegant frame. Her song Skyfall is easily one of the greatest Bond theme songs in the series’ history. Adele then picked up Best Original Song shortly after her performance. It was also the year for celebrating movie musicals. Having been 10 years since Chicago’s best picture win, Richard Gere, Renee Zellwegger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah owned the stage at one point to celebrate its success. Zeta-Jones went one further, however, with a show-stopping rendition of All That Jazz.

The awards themselves were what everyone, both at home and in the Dolby Theatre, was looking forward to. Macfarlane’s quip about the ceremony being similar to church was damn accurate. Everyone waited with baited breath for their name to be called out. The winners in every category were gracious and deserving. Christoph Waltz winning for the second time in four years was fun to watch. The Austrian actor gracefully thanked his peers before paraphrasing Tarantino’s stellar dialogue. Also graceful in victory was Anne Hathaway. Controlled, poised and beautiful; she lit up the stage. She scooped up every supporting actress award leading up to the Oscars for her portrayal of Fantine in Les Miserables. She earned all of them. Jennifer Lawrence shocked the crowd with both her bewildering speech and her trip on the stairs. While Daniel Day-Lewis’ victory speech contained the biggest laugh of the night. Who’d have thought the world’s most intensive actor would have a strong comedic side?

Ben Affleck’s Oscar win.

It was a tough race this year. All 9 Best Picture nominees will stand the test of time. They reached new heights both emotionally and technologically. The nominees had many similarities, yet they were able to branch out and find their own voice. Lincoln and Django Unchained both told stories about slavery, but they had the courage to tackle the subject from different directions. Life of Pi explored the depths of both the ocean and the soul. While Beasts of the Southern Wild, last year’s surprise hit, was a touching look at the human spirit. These films grabbed me when I first saw them and will probably never let go. Zero Dark Thirty was, shamefully, this year’s loser. Director Kathryn Bigelow looked on from the sidelines as Argo scooped up some major awards. Argo was my favourite film of 2012. It is a gripping, tense and occasionally hilarious experience. Its electric dialogue and performances stand proudly next to Ben Affleck’s involving direction. 15 years have passed since he won his first Oscar. Argo’s deserving Best Picture win proves that Affleck is a changed man and a true professional.

Best Part of the night: Argo’s Best Picture win

Worst Part: Rudd and McCarthy’s sketch

Zero Dark Thirty Review – Ball-busting Bigelow


Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Writer: Mark Boal 

Stars: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong


Release date: December 19th, 2012

Distributors: Columbia Pictures, Universal Pictures, Icon Productions, GAGA

Country: USA

Running time: 157 minutes


 

5/5

Best part: Bigelow’s direction.

Worst part: Some slightly underdeveloped characters.

There has been a vast number of military procedurals since 9/11. Each with their own point to prove, they attain an understandable account of relations between the west and the Middle East. One director unafraid to discuss the War on Terror with a definitive and fiery passion is Kathryn Bigelow. Her latest film, Zero Dark Thirty, is arguably one of the best films of the past decade.

Jessica Chastain.

A big statement for sure, but both her and this film heartily speak to the masses about the past decade’s hottest topic. Zero Dark Thirty dramatises the work of multiple US agencies, all of whom with the same goal. Between 2001 and 2011, Osama bin Laden was at the top of every most wanted list. CIA operative Maya (Jessica Chastain) is brought in to witness the routine of Pakistan’s US Embassy. Aided by fellow CIA officer Dan (Jason Clarke), their brutal interrogations uncover several leads. While searching endlessly for Al-Qaeda members, in particular a courier by the name of ‘Abu Ahmed’, the CIA division overlooking the region must also contend with constant allegations and terrorist attacks. Heading up the operation, Maya launches an all-out assault on bin Laden and Al-Qaeda’s hold on the Middle East. Bigelow and writer Mark Boal have reunited after their best-picture winning effort, The Hurt Locker. Whereas that film centred on one Bomb disposal unit, their new feature examines every aspect of the war against bin Laden. Despite bin Laden’s death in 2011, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq may never satisfyingly end. Zero Dark Thirty has caused severe controversy since its conception. Clashes with CIA and Obama administration officials suggest that this story hits way too close to home. So-called ‘leaked’ information is combined with an in-depth analysis of the war on terror.  

Kyle Chandler & Jason Clarke.

The 2 hour and 37 minute length is vital for this immense story. Boal’s script is a cinematic dramatisation of startling personal accounts. Like a journalist’s presentation of the Middle East, the film’s objectivity allows for many interpretations. Bigelow and Boal smartly recreate certain events without either propagandistic or anti-establishment messages. This expansive story covers 10 years of terrorist acts and events within a shattered bureaucracy. Attacks including 9/11 and the London Bombings are depicted but never sensationalised. The boardroom rules over the battlefield here. The film’s daring examination of pencil-pushers and investigators grounds this intense struggle. Intelligence and surveillance may be vital, but human intuition is even greater. However, the bombings, shoot-outs and assassination attempts will leave anyone sinking in their seats. The film’s best sequence is the night raid by Seal Team Six on Bin Laden’s Compound. Tight, tense and violent; it’s a stunning action set piece devoid of unnecessary ‘Hollywood’ flourishes. Zero Dark Thirty never reverts back to standard action-thriller tropes. It’s subtly divided between cat-and-mouse chase, military procedural and intense thriller. With many post-9/11 military dramas, action and simplistic exposition tell the story. The film’s level of political jargon is about as intensive as a CNN newsroom. Evidence, gathered and shared between Pakistan and Washington D.C., extensively details how technology can create freedom. Yes, it’s refreshing that a Hollywood post-9/11 drama can speak strictly to the current affair-centred viewer, but that concept may be excruciating for everyone else. Films such as The InsiderAll the President’s MenMunich and The Kingdom provide a similar outlook on international political affairs. Zero Dark Thirty has caused controversy due to its graphic torture sequences.

“Can I be honest with you? I am bad fucking news. I’m not your friend. I’m not gonna help you. I’m gonna break you. Any questions?” (Dan (Jason Clarke), Zero Dark Thirty).

The Seal Team Six sequence.

Bigelow, however, never pushes things too far. No one is having appendages chopped off. Instead, heavy metal music is blared for days on end and male prisoners are humiliated in front of female CIA operatives. Despite these atrocities, both the American and Middle Eastern characters are depicted delicately. Bigelow and Boal find, and comment on, the humanistic elements of both sides without sitting on left or right wings. Bigelow is clearly one of Hollywood’s best action-thriller directors. Her tight, kinetic style comes to the forefront of both The Hurt Locker  and Zero Dark Thirty. Boal and Bigelow have expanded The Hurt Locker‘s Middle Eastern setting. The grit of the Middle Eastern desert is important to this harsh docudrama. The verisimilitude establishes a startling world that the American characters struggle to adjust to. Bigelow’s handling of Maya’s story is hauntingly personal. Maya is based on a real-life CIA operative whose name cannot be given for security purposes. Maya’s arc between naive operative and frustrated leader is chilling. She separates the men from the boys whilst living and working in a testosterone fuelled environment (much like Bigelow herself). Maya is courageously determined to capture bin Laden. Pushing papers and tempers around the office, her implausible hunches push her to continue on. The ubiquitous Chastain is remarkable here. Every emotion is etched painfully into her face. She presents her character’s exhaustive journey with a powerfully affecting turn. Charismatic character actors, including Mark Strong, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Kyle Chandler and James Gandolfini, deliver powerful performances in small roles.

Bigelow and Boal have crafted a heart-thumping and intelligent thriller. Crafting the line between bureaucracy, democracy, and chaos, Zero Dark Thirty is an objective and affecting look at the greatest manhunt in history. Thanks to this immaculate cast and crew, this military flick transcends the genre and studio system.

Verdict: An intelligent and captivating military thriller.