Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Movies Revisited

I don't see enough movies - at least not new movies - to warrant a top 10 list. Instead, I rank every movie I saw that was released in theaters this year from the worst to the best. Well, really I'm ranking them from movies I liked the least to movies I liked the most... but that's a pain to type out.

In total, I saw sixteen new movies this year. I'd only describe one of these as bad: the rest were at least decent. The catch is that none of these movies floored me like Avengers or the first Hobbit did last year. Overall, I thought 2013 delivered a large number of good movies, but nothing I saw struck me as great.

Granted, my tastes generally keep me away from most anything that has a shot at Best Picture. Plus, I still haven't seen Catching Fire, which is supposed to be awesome.

Here's the list:

16. G.I. Joe: Retaliation
The only thing I expected from this - THE ONLY THING - was that it would be better than the last G.I. Joe movie. Every review I read promised it was, and the trailers made it seem like a slam dunk. So imagine my disappointment when I finally sat down to see it and found it less engaging, less funny, and less exciting than the pitifully mediocre Rise of Cobra.

This movie was a let down on almost every level: I honestly don't know why so many people gave it a pass. The one thing they did right was assemble an appropriate cast. Not that they made use of them.

The first one was bad, but at least it had a few enjoyable scenes.

15. Warm Bodies
I enjoyed Warm Bodies quite a bit, though it's easy to imagine how it could have been improved. The inclusion of the "Boneys" felt like a cheat, and the ending was uninspired. I mean, come on, at least have Julie turn into a zombie and have R help her regain her humanity like she helped him. Sure, it would have been corny, but at least it would have been felt satisfying.

Regardless, the movie offered a great twist on the zombie genre. It was funny, sweet, and - most importantly - as disturbing as a romantic comedy about brain-eating zombies should be.

14. Monsters University
Monsters University wasn't bad. In fact, it was pretty good. It's about on par with Pixar's other release this year, the Toy Story Halloween special. But that's the issue: this wasn't remotely good enough to justify a theatrical release. At one time, Pixar was the company that made a direct-to-video sequel so good, it was released theatrically. Now, they're making theatrical releases that should go right to DVD. They're still producing good movies, but there's no question they've fallen a long way.

13. Thor: The Dark World
I seem to be in the minority here, but I found the Thor sequel a little disappointing. The Loki sequences were a lot of fun, as was the end fight, but I think this is one of the Cinematic Marvel Universe's weakest movies.

12. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters
Probably the year's most under-rated film, Hansel and Gretel is a good reminder there are some movies out there that critics still can't understand. Yes, the swearing was anachronistic - that was intentional, just like all the anachronisms. It was a steam-punk hard-boiled noir comedy/adventure story set in the middle-ages, and it pulled those genres together in an extremely interesting manner.

In addition, the movie stands out as having an almost unheard female-leaning cast. Not that it scores perfectly on issues of gender: they fridged a character who should have made it out alive and strangely focused on Hansel for the final battle (shouldn't that have been Gretel's fight?). Still, Gretel was a great character and a good example of Hollywood starting to come around on female action heroes.

The movie was fun - a hell of a lot of fun, in fact - and I'm excited they're making a sequel.

11. The World's End
In case you're confused, this is the one about a group friends on a pub crawl who uncover an alien invasion, not "This is the End," which is about a bunch of actors hanging out during the Apocalypse (I haven't seen that yet, by the way).

This was good, but it was also a victim of sky-high expectations. The first Frost-Pegg movie was Shaun of the Dead, which remains one of the best comedies of the past twenty years. Both this and Hot Fuzz were good movies, but neither managed to match Shaun.

10. Star Trek Into Darkness
For the first few days after Star Trek Into Darkness came out, everyone loved it. Then a funny thing happened: someone pointed out that the movie didn't utilize its female leads to their potential. Pretty soon, it was being decried everywhere I looked.

I want to take a minute to defend this, though. While it's true the movie underutilized Uhura, it wasn't really about her anyway. This was about Kirk and Spock. And I think that's all right.

Don't get me wrong: there's something seriously wrong with Hollywood right now. The fact studios refuse to green-light more than a handful of movies with female protagonists is idiotic and sexist. But that doesn't mean that every movie made needs to focus on a female lead to be good. In other words, the real problem is with the industry, not this movie.

Yes, the underwear scene was dumb. A lot of scenes in this movie were dumb, in fact - same with its predecessor. But, on the whole, Into Darkness was dumb and fun, which is why it's as high on this list as it is.

9. Riddick
I really enjoyed this movie, though I can't defend the bizarre direction they took with Katee Sackhoff's character in the last couple minutes. Overall, the movie is a great Conan in space story. The first third is particularly awesome. I just wish they'd been able to make a more faithful sequel to The Chronicles of Riddick, but I've made my opinions on that clear already.

8. Frozen
Frozen is an intelligent film, sometimes to its detriment. It feels extremely intentional, as if every plot beat was debated by a committee of scholars before they arrived at the story line that best outlined their thesis: that true love is that of family and not of flights of fancy.

Its saving grace is its characters: all five of the leads are great, and the character we all expected to despise turned out being the movie's best. The movie didn't fill me with wonder, but it certainly entertained me for an hour and a half.

Plus, it's about time Disney made a princess movie about sisters.

7. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The Desolation of Smaug is a weird one. On one hand, I was extremely disappointed with it. I don't mind the liberties taken with the plot, but it bothers me that this doesn't feel like Tolkien anymore. The intricate character moments and emotional arcs that have carried us through all the previous Middle Earth movies were missing or felt forced. The love triangle was unnecessary and lacking subtlety. I hope I turn around and eat those words after part three, but for the time being, I thought it was ridiculous.

All that said, as a fantasy-action film, it was still a lot of fun. If you divorce it from its source material, it still buries 90% of fantasy out there. I just wish it felt like part of The Hobbit.

6. Gravity
Gravity is an experience film. Is it gimmicky? Sure, but when the gimmick is that the whole thing is in space and the flow of zero-G is realistically portrayed, it's not something to complain about.

5. Pacific Rim
Depending on who you ask, Pacific Rim is either an example of Hollywood incorporating women at its best, it's worst, or both. There are a few reasons for this discrepancy. The movie deserves credit for having one of its main characters be a woman with extensive combat skill who's not a love interest. But there's a lot of debate over whether she comes off as competent or timid. Then there's the fact that she's almost alone: only one of the movie's minor characters is female.

In the movie's defense, you could pretty much replace every human character with a hamster without seriously impacting the film. Ultimately, this is robots punching monsters and monsters biting robots. The rest is there to fill time.

And the fight scenes are spectacular. Easily the most memorable visual experience of the summer.

But maybe - just maybe - the script could have used some more work. And maybe it's time for Guillermo del Toro to reflect on the fact that he keeps putting women into his movies who are strong... but eerily similar. How many adult female protagonists have been shy, repressed women with a deep inner strength? I hope he continues incorporating female characters in major roles, but maybe it's time he got over that girl he liked in high school.

4. Iron Man 3
I love almost everything about Iron Man 3, but I just like the movie. It's a lot of fun, but - at least for me - it doesn't really come together. I feel like the plot points are there to pull us from bit to bit, but none of it ever adds up to a complete story.

To be fair, the same could be said about Iron Man 2, which is my second favorite Marvel movie after The Avengers. The difference is that IM2 was filled with comic book nonsense, while IM3 contained 80's action movie tropes. Personally, I prefer comics, so I love part 2 and just like part 3.

3. Man of Steel
It's not that I disagree with the criticism being leveled against Man of Steel - that Jonathan Kent's death was idiotic, that the level of destruction was a tad excessive, and that more time should have been devoted to Superman minimizing the loss of life - I just don't think these flaws were enough to ruin the movie.

This was a great Superman movie; in many ways, the one we've been waiting for. We finally got to see Kal-El in a real fight: that's never been accomplished in live-action before. Yeah, I miss the red shorts, but the core character felt right. That scene in the church when he's discussing his dilemma with a priest was perfect. And Lois... they got Lois right in a way I don't think anyone has before. They sacrificed a massive piece of the mythology, but wound up with something far, far better: a version of Lois Lane who's as capable as she should be.

I honestly have no idea whether the sequel will be the most amazing thing we've ever seen, a pile of garbage, or something else entirely, but I enjoyed this one quite a bit.

2. Much Ado About Nothing
Yeah, it's this high. Based on the reviews, I expected to like Joss Whedon's Much Ado. But, when I finally got around to seeing it, I discovered I really, really liked it.

The movie is a hell of a lot of fun. Just about everything about the production is inspired, but the casting is especially fantastic. I loved the take on the characters and setting, and the jazz version of Sigh No More was the best take on that song I've ever heard.

This almost made it to the #1 spot, but then something unexpected happened....

1. The Wolverine
I loved The Wolverine when I saw it, but there's no denying there were serious issues. The issues were things I felt like we had to accept: you can't make an R-rated superhero movie. That's simply a reality of the business. It's impossible to show Wolverine impaling enemy after enemy: you just can't do it.

Here's something you might not know: they managed to make that movie anyway. Turns out, you can make a violent, gritty Wolverine movie. You just can't release it in theaters.

You can, however, release it on DVD. The version of this movie that tops my list for 2013 isn't the one I reviewed last summer. The theatrical cut was already good, but the extended version exceeds it on every level. The action is greatly improved, but so are the characters. Mariko is given a lot more to do here, and Yukio is even more kick-ass.

The extended edition is as good - if not better than - any of the X-Men movies before it, including X-Men 2. I highly recommend you track it down.

No comments: