Friday, January 3, 2014

DAMN Good Movies -- My Top 10 Movies of 2013

Another year is officially history, so I thought I'd pass along a few random thoughts about my personal favorite films of 2013.  For those not familiar with my typical disclaimer, this list only contains films I actually managed to see in theaters or on home video, so if you don't see your favorite here, that's probably why.

1.  American Hustle -- After last year's surprise Silver Linings Playbook, I'm curious if David O. Russell will finally get that Academy Award for Best Director.  This is another ensemble film, but it captures the cheesiness of the late '70s so well and ends up being more than just a showcase for his cast.  But hey, how can you not like a movie with Batman as a skeevy con man with a bad combover and a gut, Lois Lane posing as his British aristocrat partner, Hawkeye as a schmoozy New Jersey mayor, and Mystique as Batman's manipulative wife who's prone to almost burning down the house on a regular basis?

2.  Saving Mr. Banks -- John Lee Hancock's film about the development of Disney's Mary Poppins is blatant Oscar bait, but it's entertaining Oscar bait.  Tom Hanks as Walt Disney is perfectly inspired casting, even though the film (a Disney production, of course) completely ignores awkward subjects like Uncle Walt's apparent antisemitism.  Expect a Best Actress nod for Emma Thompson as author P.L. Travers and maybe a Best Supporting Actor nod for Paul Giamatti or even Colin Farrell, of all people.

3.  The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug -- The second of Peter Jackson's overly-expanded adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit is a signficant improvement over the first, if only because it doesn't take over a half an hour for things to get moving.  The addition of new female Wood Elf character Tauriel is a welcome break from the dwarf sausage fest, and Legolas fans can enjoy seeing him show off all over again.  But at last, we finally get Smaug, voiced so well by Benedict Cumberbatch, in some truly impressive sequences set inside the Lonely Mountain.

4.  Star Trek Into Darkness -- That's right, regardless of what a bunch of bitter old Trekkies want so desperately to believe, this is actually a decent movie.  J.J. Abrams' film isn't perfect, because no film is, but it's way more fun and entertaining than The Final Frontier, Generations, Insurrection and Nemesis could ever hope to be.  And yes, Benedict Cumberbatch would've probably been more effective as Gary Mitchell than Khan Noonien Singh, but he manages to make the role his own instead of simply rehashing the late Ricardo Montalban.
5.  Man of Steel -- Another film unfairly maligned by cynical fanboys.  There are legitimate criticisms of Zack Snyder's first take on Superman (Jonathan Kent's uncharacteristic paranoia, the excessive destruction of Metropolis), but did everyone conveniently forget about Bryan Singer's failed reboot Superman ReturnsThat movie proved it was time to move past the Donner films of thirty years ago, and overall, Snyder delivered with a fresh, stylish depiction of Krypton, some truly super uses of superpowers, and a much more worthy successor to the late Christopher Reeve than Dean Cain, Brandon Routh and Tom Welling.

6. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire -- The second of four films based on Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games book trilogy moves beyond an Americanized Battle Royale and develops into its own mythos. Thankfully, Francis Lawrence proves to be a better director than his predecessor, exploring the central themes with a larger budget that results in more of an actual film and less of a cheap, made-for-TV movie on Syfy.  However, as compelling as Katniss Everdeen is, the supporting cast (especially the men) still seems horribly underwritten and the abrupt ending comes off like a TV commercial break.

7.  The Wolverine -- After losing Darren Aronofsky, no one expected James Mangold's movie to turn out as well as it did.  It's even better on the Blu-Ray "Extended Cut" that adds in a bit more violence and a few more F-bombs, although still falls short in the third act where the engaging drama abruptly shifts tone into a standard superhero movie.  Regardless, the film's setting in Japan makes more a great change of pace, and star Hugh Jackman still refuses to phone in his performance even after all this time.

8.  World War Z -- A pleasant surprise that could've been much, much worse.  Marc Forster, the guy who dropped the ball in Quantum of Solace, dealt with numerous rewrites and reshoots, so you would expect a complete mess as a result.  But somehow, inexplicably, Brad Pitt flying around the world on global zombie attack tour flows together pretty damn well.  There's also a fun bit for Doctor Who fans, with new Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi as, of all things, a W.H.O. doctor.

9.  Pacific Rim -- One thing that's great about films by Guillermo del Toro is that they're never dull.  And this film, with Earth under assault by giant monsters called Kaijus and defended by men piloting equally giant mecha called Jaegers, is certainly no different.  Charlie Hunnam showed potential as a movie star, Idris Elba showed he's still awesome as Idris Elba, and Ron Perlman still finds a way to steal every scene he's in.  Unfortunately, the movie turns out to be little more than Giant Monster vs. Giant Robot destruction porn, which has its audience, albeit a far too limited one as the disappointing box office proved.

10.  Thor: The Dark World -- Another movie that suffered considerable creative problems during production.  Alan Taylor's sequel to Thor pales in comparison to Kenneth Branagh's Flash Gordonqesue first movie, but the returning cast is as appealing as ever.  Fans of Tom Hiddleston's Loki are rewarded with his increased presence, which makes you wonder if the movie should've been called Loki: The Dark World instead.  Unfortunately, former Doctor Who star Christopher Eccleston disappoints as the new Big Bad, Malekith, and the bonus closing credits scene probably makes no sense unless you're a diehard Marvel Comics fan.

All in all, a fun year at the movies and a definite upgrade over 2012.  Bring on 2014!

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