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!

Advertisements

Side Effects

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

Side Effects  (B).  The latest film from Steven Soderbergh (The Informant!) is an interesting and twisty little movie.  I can’t say too much about the plot because of its twistiness, but the set-up is this.  Emily (Rooney Mara, The Social Network) is a depressed young woman patiently awaiting the day her husband Martin (Channing Tatum, 21 Jump Street) will get out of prison for insider trading.  Martin gets out of prison, but Emily’s depression gets worse.  She comes under the care of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law, Hugo), and they begin a trial-and-error search for an anti-depressant drug that will work for her.  That’s about as much as I can say without depriving you of the pleasure of seeing what happens next, and next, and then next after that.  It’s kind of a thriller, but a little too low-key for that label to be really accurate.  Catherine Zeta-Jones (Rock of Ages) also stars as a tightly wound psychiatrist from Emily’s past.  It’s much better than the 2005 film of the same name starring Katherine Heigl (Side Effects), that’s for sure!

The Informant!

From the desk of The Movie Snob

The Informant! (B). Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting) plays Mark Whitacre, a biochemist and executive at agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland. The company suspects industrial sabotage by a Japanese competitor, and the FBI gets involved. But when an FBI agent (Scott Bakula of Quantum Leap fame) goes out to Whitacre’s house to install a recording device on his telephone, Whitacre drops a bomb: ADM is involved in an international price-fixing conspiracy. He agrees to turn informant and help the Bureau build its antitrust case by wearing a wire. But Whitacre has some . . . difficulties with truth-telling, as it turns out, making the FBI’s job that much more difficult (to say nothing about the challenge Whitacre poses to his own lawyers). I thought it was an entertaining little film, kind of like Catch Me If You Can. On a side note, one of the FBI people is played by Ann Cusack, sister of John and Joan, and even though I couldn’t remember ever seeing her before, there was no mistaking the Cusackness of her voice. Also, old-school comedians Tom and Dick Smothers make cameo appearances.

Shrek 3; Ocean’s Thirteen

The triumphant return of That Guy Named David!

Shrek the Third (C)

My nieces and nephew were in town over the weekend, so we went kid-friendly with the video rental and got the most-recent addition to the Shrek family. In short, the movie was decent but nothing to celebrate. Maybe I am just “Shreked-out,” but I just did not find myself enjoying this movie. I think the writers/directors attempted to re-hash many of the same themes and dialogue that made the first two successful. However, they failed to add any new, interesting characters, and the story was not creative enough to keep my attention (or the attention of the kid-folk) throughout the movie. They should have stopped at 2, instead of trying to complete the trilogy.

Ocean’s Thirteen (C+)

Speaking of bad attempts at completing a trilogy, we also rented Ocean’s Thirteen over the past weekend. In Thirteen, the writers had the unique idea to bring together a bunch of mega-moviestars, put them in Las Vegas, have them put together and execute a complicated burglary of a major casino, all the while avoiding (a) being killed and/or (b) ending up in jail. Sounds like winner, huh? Well, it was… for Ocean’s Eleven made in 1960 and remade in 2001. Not so much for the one re-remade in 2007. Seriously, can someone please think up an original idea in Hollywood these days? Had the weather been half-decent, I would have been kicking myself for wasting 2 hours on a Sunday watching this dud.

Three New DVD Reviews from Nick at Nite

Disturbia

Rear Window for the teen set. It is not exactly the same as the Alfred and Jimmy masterpiece, but it is pretty close. Teenager is placed in Martha Stewart lockdown at his house for three months over the summer after he punches his Spanish teacher. Teenager starts to spy on his neighbors and watch the goings on in the neighborhood. Of course, the goings on are bad goings on, and our teenager must deal with it. Even though it is a copy, it isn’t all bad. This is worth a rental. I give it a “B.”

Ocean’s Thirteen

Ocean’s Fourteen, Ocean’s Fifteen, Ocean’s Sixteen . . . as far as I am concerned they can keep making these movies until the end of time. I know it is a formula. I know it is campy. I know it is a continuation of a remake from the original rat pack. Still, I like ’em. These heist films are fantastic. The how-did-they-do-that and comedic bent make them better than the fare you normally see at the cineplex. Sure, my wife likes Pitt, Clooney, and Damon, but that is not main reason we like these movies. We have fun at them. Isn’t that what it is all about? You know, it looks like the actors had fun making this movie. I give it an “A.”

The Ex

I don’t know how I feel about this movie. It has a bunch of actors I like. Jason Bateman (Disconnect), Zach Braff (TV’s Scrubs), Charles Grodin (So I Married an Axe Murderer), Amanda Peet (Gulliver’s Travels), and Mia Farrow (The Great Gatsby). It has some laughs, I always like that. But, it also had some of those fleeting moments of uncomfortableness seen in What About Bob? (why won’t Billy Murray leave Richard Dreyfuss alone?), The Break Up (when it this gonna get funny?), and Swingers (did he really call ten times in a row?) that make my stomach hurt. I watched this with my wife, she kept saying she was going to be very unhappy if it did not have a happy ending. My point is this, when people make movies that are supposed to be funny, they need to be funny, when people want to make dramedies (dramas that have some funny moments), they should clearly label the DVD case or film poster as such. I give a “C+.”