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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Aaron's Odds & Ends of 2013: The Top 11-20 and Other Special Mentions


I had a lot to go through when putting together my year end Top Ten list, which will be the next post, as far as these "Top Ten of 2013" posts go.  I am quite satisfied with my final list of top ten films, but at the same time, there were a lot of films that I wanted to receive some kind of recognition from me, as I truly did do a lot of work to narrow everything down.  So I have created this list of "Odds & Ends", which makes special mentions for various documentaries, independent, arthouse & foreign films, and more mainstream films that I saw and really enjoyed.  I have also listed what I would my consider my Top 11-20 films of the year, which could easily be someone else's complete Top Ten list, along with some underrated features.  So without further ado, here's is a big mix of films from 2013 that, while not a part of my final Top Ten, I also really found to be worthwhile.



Documentary Love

I missed some documentaries this year, but there are a few I managed to catch and really responded to, whether it be about a punk rock group that never made it big, a killer killer whale, a woman exploring her own family secrets, or a man who wanted to show what the character of Batman has done for people in real life.  These are some of the documentaries I most enjoyed.

A Band Called Death, Blackfish, Legends of the Knight, Stories We Tell


Independents, Art House, and Foreign Films

This category features a collection of films that I really enjoyed and could have easily seen on my list, were this year to have played differently for me.  I’ll note that McConaughey’s work led to dual mention here, Stoker and Trance were wonderful stylish exercises, Frances Ha was such a nice change in pace for director/co-writer Noah Baumbach, and The Past has me convinced that Asghar Farhardi is one of the best writer/directors making personal dramas today.



Horror Lovers

As far as horror films go, 2013 saw some good ones released, with the bigger ones actually receiving good notice from a lot of critics.  I did not see every horror film, but I was pleased by this set of films the most, with The Lords of Salem (the most recently seen by me) standing out as my favorite horror film of the year.  V/H/S 2 has one segment that is intense as hell (“Safe Haven”) and worth the price of admission alone.  I was also very happy with getting an Evil Dead remake that lived up to the spirit of the original.  And I can’t emphasize enough how good a double feature All The Boys Love Many Lane and You’re Next would be for various reasons.  I point out The Conjuring too, because James Wan directed the hell out of it, even if I wasn’t a huge fan of it, compared to other people.



For General Moviegoers

Man, there were lots of really entertaining movies.  Here is another set of ten films that I really liked and fit into the realm of big releases fitting for all audiences.  It would have been great to squeeze one of these films onto my top ten, but I am just happy to have found a way to mention them in some capacity.  American Hustle certainly gets some bonus points for having the best ensemble cast of the year.  Films like Anchorman 2, ‘Cloudy 2’, and This is the End get credit for making me laugh very hard.  Frozen was my favorite animated movie from this year, with great songs to go with it.  The Wolverine was my favorite of the big superhero movies released this year.  Ender’s Game was a big surprise, as I love the book and was very pleased by the film adaptation.  Pacific Rim was a film made by a geek for geeks, with some really fun, large-scale results.  And I have of course been clear on my admiration for the Fast & Furious franchise.



Underrated Picks for 2013:

I could spend a lot more time going into why these films deserved more attention (and would even add on 47 Ronin if I really had the time), but I am happy that I at least have a small section here to address this set of films.

Beautiful Creatures – What could have been nothing more than another attempt at making money off of the success of Twilight was actually quite the opposite in terms of quality.  While it is still a “supernatural teen romance” it is also a gorgeously filmed piece of entertainment, complete with great camp performances from Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, and a super-hot Emmy Rossum.  The film also has a great asset in the form of a romance that I was happy to get behind, as the leads were quite good here.  Unfortunately, the film bombed and I will never get to see how things could have played out.

After Earth/The Lone RangerWhile these two films were both disappointing to me, I would also state them as underrated as well, namely because these two heavily criticized films are not nearly the train wrecks people would have you believe they are.  After Earth is not a film I can necessarily go to bat for, but it is far from dreadful.  The Lone Ranger, on the other hand, suffers for a few reasons, but still has a lot of good-to-great stuff in a film that just didn’t quite come together for me.  I cannot deny that The Lone Ranger has easily one of the best action finales of the year though.

Escape Plan/Homefront/The Last Stand – I am not sure what people were expecting from these three movies that did nothing more than promise to have action stars be in action movies, but for some reason they did not get the audiences they deserved.  That is unfortunate, because each of these films were very entertaining for different reasons.  Starting chronologically, The Last Stand was a return to form for Arnold, who acted his age, while the film featured a great western-style action/siege to check out.  Escape Plan was a loopy idea that was fun and fleshed out just enough.  It also had good work from Sly and Arnie.  Lastly, Homefront managed to take a retro action premise and fill it with well-developed characters, all while allowing the audience to see Jason Statham kick ass.  Unfortunate indeed that many action fans missed checking out some fun action movies.

Pain & GainIf I liked this movie more, it could have easily wound up in my 11-20, if not my top ten.  Michael Bay managed to make a crazy dark comedy about idiots trying to steal the American dream.  Unfortunately Bay got in the way of himself, when it came time to really making his aggressive directorial style fit with this story, but the film still does have some brilliant moments and a career-best acting role from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who I already liked quite a bit as an actor.  Given the crazy true story that this film is based on, Pain & Gain had plenty going for it, but audiences apparently could not find the time for these body-building muscle heads from Miami.  The nice little bonus for me is that I have seen this film pop up on several Top Ten lists.

White House Down – It is a little strange that my underrated films are mostly action movies, but I think that is because there was an assumption made about a lot of these films, mixed with marketing campaigns that did not do the best job of selling the films.  White House Down is every bit as effective as a “Die Hard in the ___” can be.  Roland Emmerich laid off destroying the world this summer and instead went for a straightforward action thriller set in Washington D.C., but the film was not a success.  It is a shame, because along with being a really solid action film, there were plenty of fine actors doing a good job in a film that took its time to actually develop its characters.  It was also really funny, which goes a long way for films like this.  Hopefully White House Down finds more luck in its days on Blu-ray and DVD.


Top 11-20 (In Alphabetical Order): 

The amazing thing about this following list of films is that they could easily make up a perfectly acceptable top ten list themselves.  This set of films is practically just as good as the set of films in my final top ten list, I just had to torture myself in an effort to establish which films should go where.

All Is LostWriter/Director J.C. Chandor went from his debut film, Margin Call, which was busy with characters, plot, and dialogue, to All Is Lost, a very minimal film featuring one character, almost no dialogue, and a very simple story.  Robert Redford is wonderful as “Our Man”, who finds himself struggling to survive, following an object striking his boat, while sailing alone in the Indian Ocean.  Along with being a very nice piece of acting work from Redford, who has to work with a script that does not allow him to speak very much, let alone explain directly who this person is, Chandor does great directorial work.  There are some incredibly well directed sequences in this film, which only add to how engrossing it all ended up being.

Before MidnightWhile I certainly have not had as much anticipation as others, given that I only just saw Before Sunrise and Before Sunset the year prior to this film, it would be hard to deny that director/co-writer Richard Linklater has made one of the best film trilogies of all time.  Before Midnight is a very natural continuation of the story between Celine and Jesse (Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke).  Once again, the film revolves around a limited span of time, with a focus on long conversations between the two characters, mostly.  There is something very satisfying about how it all plays out, even if the dialogue can become acidic in nature at certain points.  There is some careful direction here as well, which goes along with the matured performances from both actors involved.

Blue JasmineAs if Woody Allen needed to continue to prove something, here he is heading to the Bay Area of California to knockout yet another great film.  Cate Blanchett has been a shoe-in for at least an Oscar Nomination for Best Actress since this film started gaining buzz and it is well deserved, as her performance is terrific in this film.  The story works as a modern take on A Streetcar Named Desire, but the film still plays as a very Allen-like drama.  Some great supporting turns in this film as well, including Sally Hawkins and freaking Andrew Dice Clay, of all people.  This was even one of the few Woody Allen features to add some reflection on events of modern times, with its plotline involving Alec Baldwin’s wealthy, but corrupt New Yorker character.
 
Captain PhillipsIt almost feels like this film is being summed up by its last five minutes, where Tom Hanks does some tremendous work as an actor, but this entire film is certainly worthy of praise, where not just Hanks, but debut actor Barkhad Abdi, director Paul Greengrass, and everyone else involved have put together a terrific docudrama centering on a the true story of an American freighter ship that is boarded by Somali pirates.  The films is quite intense, but the real greatness comes from Hanks’ chemistry with the other pirates, as their scenes really crackle with excitement, while the film moves to its inevitable, but very tense finale.

It’s A DisasterHere is a film that I could not catch in theaters, but was very happy to find it streaming later in the year, as It’s A Disaster is the kind of small film I really enjoy.  The film features an ensemble cast and revolves around a couples brunch gone horribly wrong, as a series of dirty bombs basically means the country is in a disastrous state of affairs and the people in this film will basically die if they leave the house (but eventually anyway, given the lack of supplies, air, etc.).  Given the dark comedy involved, the way this premise evolves, and other elements of this film, I really enjoyed It’s A Disaster in the same way I loved a film like Seeking a Friend for the End of the World a year prior.

The Place Beyond the PinesThe epic drama that was leading my list of best films of the year in the early half of 2013, I really responded to what writer/director Derek Cianfrance was trying to put out there with this film.  Featuring a trio of stories, all interconnected, Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper are absolutely great in this film.  There is solid work from the up and coming Dane DeHaan as well.  It has been a popular claim that the stories decline in quality as the film goes on, but I would certainly not hark on that aspect as much, as there is a lot to appreciate about each and even with the deliberate pacing, it is still absorbing, gritty, and yet beautifully filmed.

RushIt is such a shame that this movie was not more successful.  Ron Howard basically made an independent film, in order to tell this story of Niki Lauda and James Hunt.  Chris Hemsworth shows he is capable of more than just swinging a hammer, but Daniel Bruhl really steals the show with his portrayal of Lauda.  I have to also emphasize how I am not into this kind of sport or cars in general, but was really taken in by how Rush played out.  It is incredibly well filmed, with a great sense of place and use of sound, among other technical aspects, but in terms of story, it does not dwell on the real technical side of things.  It has a nice focus on the characters.  Rush was a solid adult drama, featuring all the great things that can come from these sort of biopics.

Short Term 12 Very close to hitting my actual top ten, but man is this a great drama, with some terrific performances, most notably Brie Larson.  Short Term 12 is a wonderful story that does not necessarily do anything all that inventive in terms of filmmaking or storytelling, but comes off as very authentic.  It involves a foster care facility and both the lives of some of the kids living there and the employees.  The work done to really get a feel for this place is very well done, but it does come down to some specific performances.  I have been enjoying Larson in lots of different films/shows, but this is really the one that could lead to huge things for her in the future, were she to get the recognition she deserves.

The Spectacular NowThe best thing about this film is how much it reminded me of 1989’s Say Anything in a good way.  The Spectacular Now is a wonderful coming-of-age film about two high school kids that form a relationship and the drama that comes from the way they live their lives.  One is a party animal, with a self-destructive personality and the other is a shy girl who is getting the chance to open up.  Both Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are terrific in this film, along with the other supporting actors, but director James Ponsold (who made the wonderful Smashed from last year) also shows that he has plenty of talent to bring to the big screen.

The Way Way BackMaybe my most sentimental pick on this list and that is due to how easy this film may be, in terms of the kind of story it is telling, but how much I loved it regardless, due to things like Sam Rockwell being amazing (as per usual), the free-flowing vibe of the film, the freedom of the water park setting, and other really fun elements in this film.  There is the dramatic side as well, but it certainly works, as there is a great cast all doing nice work here, regardless of how thin some of the roles may be written.  Really though, it does come down to Rockwell’s terrific supporting turn and having the vibe of a coming-of-age film that really clicked for me.



And that is it for now.  Tune in for the Top Ten Films of 2013, coming soon to The Code Is Zeek both in written and podcast form via Out Now with Aaron and Abe.



Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS4.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.

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