The Best Movies I Saw in 2013, by The Movie Snob

Once again, it is time for The Movie Snob’s annual “best of” column.  As always, the only rule is that I limit the list to films I saw for the first time during the last calendar year.  Thus, you can be sure some 2012 releases will be sprinkled in among the 2013 releases.

Movie of the Year.  It’s another tough call this year.  I gave three movies a straight “A” grade this year, but one of them was a 1949 release, so I’ll temporarily disqualify that one.  As between the other two, I’ll give top honors to 12 Years a Slave.  You’ve already heard all about this movie, if you haven’t seen it already, so I’ll just say it was an amazing, harrowing experience.  It’s a fitting companion to Lincoln, which was my pick for movie of the year last year.

Runner-Up.  If I had managed to see it in 2012, when it was released, I would have picked Zero Dark Thirty as my movie of the year in last year’s column.  If you missed this movie, correct your mistake and see it!  Jessica Chastain gives a fine performance as a CIA analyst consumed with the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and the final act of the movie depicting the raid on bin Laden’s compound is a tour de force.

Old-school runner-up.  The third movie I gave a straight “A” to in 2013 was the 1949 classic The Third Man.  It’s just a great, great movie.  Look it up.

Best Action/Adventure Flick.  I’ll pick Man of Steel as last year’s best action movie.  This Superman origin story held my interest from beginning to end.  Plus it featured Amy Adams, which is a plus even though she was kind of miscast as Lois Lane.  I still haven’t seen the new Hobbit movie, so we’ll see if it can give Superman a run for his money.  I also liked World War Z, and I think most zombie fans will too.

Best Animated Movie.  I saw and liked two last year.  Top honors go to Wreck-It Ralph, an entertaining and heart-warming story about the lives of a bunch of video-game characters “after hours.”  I also liked The Croods.  I didn’t have high hopes for that one, but the emotional ending really got to me.

Best Comedy.  This is always a tough category, and last year was no exception.  I didn’t think any of the comedies I saw were great, and the ones I thought were pretty good generally weren’t straight comedies.  I guess the best straight comedy I saw was In a World…, about a woman who is trying to grow up while also trying to break into the very male field of movie voice-over work.  Judd Apatow’s This Is 40 had some good moments, but it’s got a lot of very serious stretches amongst the amusing bits.  And I liked Warm Bodies, which is kind of a zombie romantic comedy, or zom-rom-com, but it is certainly not going to be to everyone’s taste.

Best Documentary.  Hands down, my favorite of the year was 56 Up.  But don’t watch it until you’ve seen all the previous installments in this long-running British series of documentaries.  The series follows a double-handful of British kids from different social classes from their childhoods until now, when they are 56 years old.  Find the first one, 7 Up!, and watch them all.  You’ll thank me.  I saw a couple of other good ones in 2013 as well.  Twenty Feet From Stardom was an interesting look at the careers of some rock-and-roll back-up singers.  Blackfish is a grim, if one-sided, look at Sea World’s mistreatment of its captive killer whales.

Best Drama.  I’ll give top honors to The Spectacular Now, an effective dramedy about a high-school senior who needs to come to grips with his burgeoning alcohol problem, fast.  Another very good dramedy is The Way Way Back, about a young teenaged boy trying to come to grips with his mom’s relationship with a new, unpleasant boyfriend, played unpleasantly by Steve Carell.  I also urge you not to miss Woody Allen’s last movie, Blue Jasmine, starring the sure-to-be-Oscar-nominated Cate Blanchett, and Alexander Payne’s last movie, Nebraska, which may produce an Oscar nominee or two of its own.  Finally, Baz Luhrmann is not for all tastes, but I enjoyed his new version of The Great Gatsby quite a bit.

Best Foreign Film.  Setting aside the British documentary 56 Up, mentioned above, I’ll go with the Italian film The Great Beauty.  The movie is languid and episodic, but it’s still an interesting look at the life of an aging hedonist living among the splendors of modern Rome.  I also saw and enjoyed a couple of older Italian movies—Fellini’s 8 ½ and the post-war classic Bicycle Thieves.

Best Science-Fiction Movie.  Here’s another clear winner: Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.  Look for some Oscar nominations for this special-effects extravaganza about a couple of astronauts marooned in space.  I also liked the latest Star Trek movie, Into Darkness, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Gravity.

Honorable Mentions.  What else should you put in your Netflix queue or your streaming list?  Here are a few suggestions.  For drama, you could go with the 2012 release The Impossible, about the devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia, or the recent remake of Les Miserables.  The Steven Soderbergh movie Side Effects is a pretty effective and twisty little thriller.  So is Mud, starring Matthew McConaughey.  At the risk of making myself a laughing stock among critics, I’m going to come right out and say I didn’t think The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto, was half bad.  Just give it a chance!  Frances Ha is a decent little movie about a young woman trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life.  Short Term 12 is a decent little movie about a home for troubled teenagers and the twentysomethings who try to watch out for them.  I liked American Hustle decently well, and you may still have time to catch that one in the movie theater.  Finally, I finally got around to seeing Kubrick’s The Shining, which is a pretty effective and entertaining chiller.  And I don’t usually like horror movies.

And that’s a wrap!


A new review from The Movie Snob.

Gravity  (A-).  This is a terrific film.  It’s been the #1 movie in America for three weeks now, I believe, so you’ve probably already seen it.  Sandra Bullock (The Heat) and George Clooney (The American) play astronauts on a space-shuttle mission to work on the Hubble Telescope.  Things go horribly wrong when the Russians attempt to destroy one of their own satellites; although the Russian satellite is a long way off, the attempt sets off a chain reaction that sends a shower of deadly debris smashing into the space shuttle.  Before you can say “Houston, we have a problem,” Sandra and George are fighting for their lives and desperately trying to figure out some way to cross the 600 kilometers between them and Earth in a non-life-ending way.  It’s a taut (91 minutes) thrill ride, and the special effects are spectacular.  I saw it in IMAX 3D, and it made for a truly immersive experience.  I’ve liked all of director Alphonso Cuaron’s films that I’ve seen (Children of Men, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Great Expectations) but this one tops them all.

The Heat

From the desk of The Movie Snob

The Heat (C+).  I must say that I patted myself on the back for waiting until this one showed up at the dollar theater before rushing out to see it.  It’s a thoroughly predictable buddy-cop movie, with the “twist” that these cop buddies are women!  Sandra Bullock (Forces of Nature) plays the tightly wound, by-the-rules cop, and Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) plays the free-wheeling, somewhat crazy cop.
Because it is rated R and stars McCarthy, you know there is extreme profanity.  It’s too long and predictable, but I still laughed a few times.  If you like McCarthy’s shtick, as I do, you should like this movie OK.

The Blind Side

Movie Man Mike sounds off with a DVD review

The Blind Side. (A) This is one of those feel-good Hollywood stories that will choke you up. But unlike many movie in this genre, this one choked me up right from the beginning and throughout. With Sandra Bullock narrating the replay of the old Joe Theismann football play that ended his career, you see quickly the central importance of football in the lives of Leah Anne and Sean Tuohy. But the real story isn’t about the sport; it’s about the character and class of Michael Oher. Michael Oher comes from a family so broken and dysfunctional that only a very few people could understand and identify with it. Probably the most amazing aspect of the story is not that the Tuohys take Oher in with the goal of lifting him up and helping him, but he lifts the whole Tuohy family up and changes them–for the better. The characters in this film are rich and wonderful. From Leah Anne Tuohy’s (Sandra Bullock) bull-headed determination to little SJ’s (Jae Head) comic relief. Aside from the story and the characters, the film may be worth watching just to hear some of the hilarious lines in it. I feel sure that Hollywood may have embellished this real life story for the big screen, but it’s worth watching in spite of the embellishments and it left me a fan of Michael Oher. He is a role model, and I wish him continued success on the football field and in life.

Two Weeks Notice

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Two Weeks Notice (D). Maybe I would not have loathed this movie so much if I had been able to slog through it all in one sitting. But as it happened, the first DVD I watched had a flaw in it that made it shut down at about the one-hour mark. Fortunately (?), the Borg Queen had a copy, so I finished watching it a few days after my initial attempt. Ugh. This movie is terrible. Sandra Bullock (Speed) plays a liberal do-gooder lawyer who goes to work for an immature, philandering real-estate magnate played by Hugh Grant (About a Boy). The title comes from the uninteresting fact that she eventually gets sick of it and gives him her two weeks’ notice. She’s not even an interesting liberal — saving some old community center on Coney Island from the wrecking ball is her main cause. There’s lots of embarrassingly bad dialogue, although I think Hugh’s character had a few decent one-liners in the early going. Learn from my mistake and avoid this movie.

The Proposal

From the desk of The Move Snob

The Proposal (C). Good romantic comedy is hard to find, and this isn’t it. Sandra Bullock (The Heat) plays Margaret Tate, a high-powered editor who was probably Miranda Priestly’s classmate at the Cruella de Vil Finishing School for Young Women. Ryan Reynolds (Adventureland) plays Andrew Paxton, her long-suffering assistant who pines for an editorial position of his own. When Margaret, a Canadian, runs into immigration trouble, she blackmails Andrew into a marriage scheme. By a remarkable coincidence of timing, this means they have to travel to Alaska for his grandma’s 90th birthday party. Will the hydrochloric acid of familial love and togetherness dissolve the metallic hardness of Margaret’s heart? Hm. Well, you can’t diss a romantic comedy because it’s formulaic, only because it doesn’t breathe life into the formula, and this one doesn’t. Margaret is way way WAY too witchy for a believable transformation after a single weekend in Sarah Palin Land, or for Andrew to forgive her for three years of torment. Plus she’s just too old for him (Bullock is 12 years older than Reynolds, per I recommend that you turn down this Proposal.

The Proposal

That Guy Named David surfaces with a new review

The Proposal (C-)

I propose that no one go watch this movie. Plot: guy (Ryan Reynolds; most famous for marrying Scarlett Johansson) works for witch of a boss (Sandra Bullock; famous despite lack of acting ability and marriage to motorcycle repairman Jesse James), she finds out she is going to be deported to Canada, she makes him act like her fiance, they go to Alaska to see his family, they fall in love, Michael Jackson dies. Okay, the last part probably has nothing to do with the movie; although, I think there was a point where I was wishing I would come down with a serious illness so I could get out of the movie. Seriously though, there is nothing redeeming about the movie. Bullock (Gravity) plays the exact same role she plays in every other movie, Reynolds (Adventureland) was more convincing (and more entertaining) as Van Wilder, and while I admit to getting a kick out of reruns of The Golden Girls, the inclusion of Betty White (Lake Placid) in the cast fell flat for everyone in the theatre under the age of 65. Save your money. Wait until it is picked up by TBS.