The Year in Film – 2013

Time for the annual trip down memory lane where I recap my favorite films of the year. The only requirements for ending up on this list are that it has to have been released in 2013, and I have to have actually seen it.

One of my favorite end-of-the-year activities is reading through screenplays made available online by studios, agencies, writers, and other folks. Here is a great list from the team behind The Black List. You should read about what they’re doing for writers, and check out their 2013 Blacklist. This is the best place to find the stories that will likely be heading to a theatre near you over the next couple if years, the ones that often come from out of nowhere to win Oscar’s.

Before I get into the films I loved this year, here’s a short list of films I haven’t been able to see just yet that I really want to see [UPDATED 1/3/2014], [UPDATED 1/19/2014].

  • Mandela:
  • Rush: watched this on a flight and really enjoyed it.
  • Saving Mr. Banks: Tom Hanks is Walt Disney. Perfect casting. I really liked this. This film is a story about telling a story that was really well done, including having Colin Farrell play a significant role though largely unheralded in media.
  • The Purge:
  • The Wolf of Wall Street: not my favorite Scorsese film. It’s over the top and insane, but doesn’t touch his best work.
  • The World’s End: These guys are hilarious. I still think Hot Fuzz is the best they’ve ever done.
  • and so many more… I keep running across titles I’d wanted to see this year. There aren’t enough hours in the day.

Here are films I saw in 2013 that made me wish I’d just read a book:

  • 12 Years a Slave: Meh. It was underwhelming to me. This is my most unpopular opinion among friends for movies in 2013. Too small a budget for a story of this magnitude, and it showed.
  • Captain Phillips: Booooo. I was unimpressed. If you want to see a movie about Somali pirates see the film out of Denmark; “A Hijacking.” Much better, much better story.
  • Drinking Buddies: What happens when you put four rising stars in a film with no screenplay? It is terrible. That is what happens. That is what we should expect to happen. It’s bad.
  • The Hangover Part III: Woof. Obvious money grabs are starting to show in Hollywood. Releasing films without a good story are bound to be problematic, especially when the property is as popular as that of the two prior Hangover films.
  • Identity Thief: I’m over the Melissa McCarthy thing. Over it.
  • Only God Forgives: This Nicolas Winding Refn followup to 2011’s Ryan Gosling film “Drive” was an abject failure. Don’t waste your time or your money, although you will likely be able to watch it for free on Netflix. Don’t do it. Just don’t.
  • The Internship: Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn making movies to hang out together is fine. This was the worst of their career together, without question. Meh.
  • Olympus has Fallen / White House Down: Dear Hollywood, please stop this kind of absurdity. We didn’t need two of these. We really didn’t need one. This also applies to After Earth/Oblivion/Elysium (none of which I watched). We get it. Space movies involving Earth in the future are fun to make.

Here are some of my “Honorable Mentions” released in 2013

  • A Hijacking: This is the movie about Somali pirates that you should watch. Way better.
  • Ain’t them Bodies Saints: I am a huge fan of Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, and Ben Foster. This film has shades of “Tree of Life” in the cinematography (sweeping landscapes, fields of wind-blown crops, etc), but the storyline is really strong. Affleck and Mara have a great rapport in the film, and the narration by Affleck was a great way to move the story along while he’s on the move.
  • All Is Lost: the entire screenplay for this movie is around 30 pages. There might be a total of ten sentences in the entire movie. It’s “Castaway” on steroids. Redford is amazing in this and the direction is great. Worth a viewing.
  • American Hustle: so much fun. Another stellar cast including Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Louis C.K., Jack Huston, and a special cameo from one of the greats. It is a great storytelling feat.
  • About Time: from the creators of “Love Actually” this film is about a young man who discovers on his 21st birthday that he has the ability to time travel. That’s not a spoiler, but I think people will enjoy this. It’s a sweet film about family and loss.
  • Big Star – Nothing Can Hurt Me: a SXSW 2012 entry, it got wide release in the summer of 2013.
  • Blue is the Warmest Color: I enjoyed this, but it was tough to get through. You can read more about it if you like.
  • Blue Jasmine: Woody Allen’s latest. Not his best effort, but that’s ok. It’s like the worst Beatles album. It’s still the Beatles, and that’s better than most.
  • Dallas Buyers Club: Matthew McConaughey again… He is getting some of the best roles out there right now. Also, Jared Leto is probably going to be nominated for best supporting actor for this.
  • Frozen: Disney did a good job with this one.
  • The Great Gatsby: this Baz Luhrmann creation is enormous in scope, scale, and talent. Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey McGuire, Isla Fisher, Joel Edgerton, and more. Originally planned for a December release in 2012, it was eventually released in May of 2013. This likely means they knew it wasn’t Oscar-winning work, and it would likely stand to make more money with a summer release. It’s fun, and you will probably like it.
  • In a World…: Lake Bell’s comedy about a young woman breaking into the “voice-over” world (a world dominated by men) was great.
  • Inside Llewyn Davis: its the Coen Brothers. Not better than “No Country for Old Men” or “O’ Brother Where Art Thou” but it is good.
  • Iron Man 3: easily the weakest of the three Iron Man films, but it’s still good.
  • Kings of Summer: a great movie about three young adults running off to the woods for the summer to create their own world. Features some fun roles including Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, and all three young men. The story is fun, semi-fresh, and the characters are great.
  • Monsters University: Pixar. Enough said. They’ve released fourteen films, and only one of them was obviously bad (Cars 2). All the rest are so enjoyable. I would argue that Pixar tells better stories than 90% of the films that are released each year.
  • Mother of George: a Sundance film that showed at the Belcourt as a special showing, and it was great.
  • Muscle Shoals: for all things Indie and about music, the Belcourt is where you’ll find it. This was fun, although a bit corny and badly managed at times. It’s still a good watch for those interested in the history of music in the American south.
  • Nebraska: as we grow up, our parents get older. That is not easy. That’s what this is about. It’s sweet.
  • Now You See Me: this was a fun, entertaining, escapism movie.
  • Out of the Furnace: a dark film about two brothers struggling to make life work. Christian Bale and Casey Affleck are great, and Woody Harrelson is a terrifying backwoods criminal.
  • Pacific Rim: I wasn’t sure I would like the movie, but I really did. What makes it more amazing is that it wasn’t based on a comic book or graphic novel. It was an original idea from the writer, and a studio decided it was good enough to make without an built-in audience. A huge win for audiences. We need more of this.
  • Prisoners: kidnapped children doesn’t make for a happy film. Strong performances from the entire cast make for a great film experience. Not for the faint of heart.
  • Sound City: a fantastic documentary by Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters, QOTSA) about Sound City Studios in California. The studio has an amazing history of musicians that recorded on a specific sound board; the Neve 8028. If you’re a fan of music, specifically music from the late 60’s and early-to-mid 70’s, this is a film for you.
  • Spring Breakers: Yikes. Harmony Korine has Nashville connections, and he’s been lauded as one of the up and coming directors in America. Well, this story featuring a lot of former Disney stars and James Franco is not for the weak of heart. It’s a freight train, out of control.
  • Stoker: this film was shot in Nashville and stars Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska, and Matthew Goode. It’s a dark film, a slow burn. It’s on this list because I would like to see more films shot in Nashville, so there we go.
  • Star Trek – Into Darkness: the return of Star Trek to the big screen has been a huge help to Hollywood’s younger talent (Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, and Benedict Cumberbatch) by getting them screen-time and big-budget films/roles. This one was total fun.
  • The Act of Killing: Holy moly. This documentary is another I think people should see. The content is incredibly difficult. Be prepared.
  • The Butler: also known as “Lee Daniels’ The Butler, this was a good movie. Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding, Lenny Kravitz, as well as many actors and actresses portraying Presidents and First Ladies throughout the life of Cecil Gaines. Highly recommend.
  • The Hunger Games – Catching Fire: This is what it looks like when a studio invests twice as much money in the sequel. Much better effort than the first, and the addition of Philip Seymour Hoffman is a big win for the franchise.
  • The Place Beyond the Pines: a dark film featuring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, and Eva Mendes. It’s a bit of a thriller with a few of twists and turns, but it’s still good.
  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: I enjoyed this fantasy. There are some great shots and such, but it’s the special effects that really set apart this film from others like it. It’s classic holiday fare
  • The Spectacular Now: a difficult story to watch, but Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller are really good together.
  • This is the End: Dear Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, this is how you successfully make a movie with your friends that people who pay to see it will enjoy. A total joke, and the entire thing is absurd, but it was fun… Except for the very end… that wasn’t my favorite.
  • This is Where we Live: this was a Nashville Film Festival viewing, and it was really well done. I wish more people at NaFF had been in the theatre for this one.
  • World War Z: This is a movie about a zombie apocalypse. Except these Zombies run. Fast. And they’re terrifying. Although the production had serious issues (script, audience tests, reshoots, and more), I felt like the final result was really great. I blogged about it earlier this year, and I hope they’ll consider a sequel to this one.

And here are my Top Ten favorite films released in 2013. They are listed here in no particular order:

  • August: Osage County: I was woefully unprepared for this one, but in a good way. It’s not the story of every family, but every family has these moments. It’s nice to see them portrayed in a way that seems like it could happen to anyone. Highly recommend. Except for the Abigail Breslin character. Could’ve done without that.
  • Before Midnight: This film is the third in a series by Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset). I’d never seen any of the three until one evening at home alone, and I watched all three in succession. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are awesome, and the story is simple enough that nearly anyone could shoot a similar series. But these three together make for great films. Watch them.
  • Fruitvale Station: Michael B. Jordan plays the main character in this true story that everyone should see. When things get out of hand on New Years Eve train in San Francisco, a life is destroyed. It really happened, and it’s tragic. It’s also preventable. A major buzz film early in the year, but it’s been a big year for film. I’m concerned it’ll be lost in the shuffle during Awards season.
  • Gravity: I submit that “Gravity” in 3-d at the IMAX theatre is the closest thing to seeing Jurassic Park in theaters I have been part of since I first saw Jurassic Park. The movie is great, the acting is great, the direction is great, the CGI is amazing, etc. If you cannot see it in a theatre, find someone with a big TV and invite yourself over to watch with the volume as loud as you can stand.
  • Her: Spike Jonze story about the relationship humanity now has with technology is really, really good. Well done all around, including Amy Adams, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt, and of course Joaquin Phoenix.
  • Much Ado About Nothing: This Joss Whedon (Avengers, Cabin in the Woods, Firefly, Angel) creation based on the Shakespeare play of the same name was excellent. I went into it thinking it was going to be overblown, but it was truly a small production and executed flawlessly in my estimation. I loved the entire thing.
  • Mud: this film got its release in 2013 although it competed at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival in 2013. Matthew McConaughey is on an incredible run of great roles, and this film is no exception. This is the film I recommended most in 2013, and I think it’s one that most everyone would enjoy.
  • Short-Term 12: this is how you make an Indie film. I think both John Gallagher, Jr. and Brie Larson are going to be stars. Set in a facility for teenagers at-risk, the story take us through the ups and down of working with children in need of serious attention and care. I thought it was great, but it’s better than that.
  • Stories we Tell: this film was released on the BBC in 2012, but came to theaters this year. And I wish everyone could see this film. I don’t want to give anything away, but if you happen upon it, watch it.
  • The Way, Way Back: this coming-of-age story about a young man spending the summer in Cape Cod is excellent. Although Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney, Toni Collette, Maya Rudolph and Steve Carell feature in this film, the younger actors in this film were really great. This film surprised me by how much I enjoyed it.

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