Saturday, January 11, 2014

Best of 2013- #15-1 and editorial

There are still some films that are considered films from 2013, that are considered "Oscar bait" that I have not yet seen because they have barely opened in the Salt lake area today, january 10th (Her, Lone Survivor, August Osage County) and 2 others that barely opened wide today, Inside Llewyn davis, and Nebraska. After I have seen them, I will rank them as part of this year's list and call them, for example 12 1/2, so that you can know where they would fit in. If I see any other films from 2013 that are "lesser" films (such as, perhaps Bad Grandpa, I will not review those, nor rank them, I will just add them to my media inventory list for the year.

As I was making my list this year, it came into stark relief that the films which made my 'Best of' are all very personal to me- on different levels, of course.

Numbers 15, 14, 4, 3, 2, 1 all connect to me because of the theme of family.

Numbers 9, 8 & 5 are about creativity

Numbers 13, 12, 11, 10 9, 8, 7, 6 are about the family which we create around ourselves with friends and workmates.

Numbers 2 & 1 deal with cancer

Numbers 15, 14, 2, & 1 deal with marital relationships.

Numbers 14, 11, 2, & 1 specifically have fathers connecting with children

Numbers 7 & 6 deal with finding your place in the world

I could continue, but I find it interesting that really the only films that are mostly pure action or fantastic filmmaking are numbers 11 & 10.

I know that as people have been reading my list thus far, I have heard complaints that I did not place something higher on my list (my wife thinks that the "Pure Entertainment" section should be higher in my list since they accomplish what they set out to do, for example), but, as I have said before, those films did not connect to me personally. It takes more than just CGI to make me care about a film anymore. Again, though, let me remind you that if I was watching a film this year, I enjoyed it. There was nothing that I absolutely hated, like Chernobyl Diaries last year.

I can guarantee that there will be those among you who totally agree with my top of the list, but that is the fun part of lists- to start a discussion. I do think, though, honestly, that all of these films are worth your time. I feel that most of the films in the top of my list do have minor issues and none are perfect, but they all hit an emotional cord in me. Even if you dont agree with some of the story choices they make (Number 9), even if it seems completely cliched (number 1)there is some portion of quality to it and I hope that you will be able to see that.

My Top 4 are really interchangeable. I loved them all unreservedly and they all touched me on a very deep, personal level. They may all have flaws, but in my eyes, they are perfect.

Without further ado, here is my best of 2013- a very personal list this year.

Best of the Year

15- DRINKING BUDDIES- The cast in this film is amazing- Olivia Wilde, jake Johnson, Ron Livingston, and Anna Kendrick. Johnson and Wilde are co-workers at a brewery who flirt very openly with each other, even though they are each in relationships. When they all spend a weekend together at a cabin, relationships become strained and the couples wonder who they should each be with. While the amount of drinking and open flirting really bothered me at the beginning, the ending and in listening to the director's commentary track about what the ending actually means, made me love this film even more. The acting is phenomenal and it raises some strong points about relationships. This is the only film on my Top list that I would not openly recommend to everyone, but I cannot deny that I have not stopped thinking about it since I saw it.

14- CONJURING- My wife often asks me why I watch so many horror movies when many of them are just bad. I always respond with, "You have to sit through a lot of crappy ones to find the great ones. And, when you find a truly great horror film, you forget about all of the crap." After the truly great horror films that I have shown her through the years, she is starting to understand- even if she could never make it through the crappy ones. The Conjuring is a horror film that was rated R literally by being "too damn scary", this film was scary, creepy, but also had a very solid heart at its core. A family with 5 daughters moves into a haunted house and the mother seeks out some paranormal investigators to help them. There is nothing new in this film, to be honest, but the character beats are so effective between both the family and the investigators, the scares so well done, even if you can see them coming, the craft in the making of this film is so precise, that it absolutely is one of the best films that I saw this year. Because of the connections that you have with the characters, once the scares start in earnest, you are truly rooting for the family. A great showcase of how to make a horror film.

13- NOW YOU SEE ME- The Sting is one of my favorite films of all time. Because of that film, I am a sucker for 'heist thrillers' such as Matchstick Men, Ocean's 11, and the TV show Leverage. These are my types of films and Now You See Me, while not as perfect as those, is still a very entertaining heist film. Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, and Isla Fisher star as 4 magicians who are being chased by the FBI after stealing money and giving it back to their audiences. Mark Ruffalo and Melanie Laurent are the agents chasing them and Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are also in the cast, as if the star power wasn't enough. My only complaint is that the film does not use the magicians as much as it could, but it really is more about the chase. While this is pure popcorn fare, I do feel that this film plays very fair with its final twist, and that it is very well crafted from the acting all the way to the production design and music, and there is nothing wrong with that.

12- STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS- Many of my sci-fi fan friends do not feel that this film should be this high up on the list- there are those that think that it should trade places with Man of Steel on my list, but, this is my list, so "back the **** up!"While it does go back and repurpose one of the most well-known villains and storylines in the Trek universe and it doesn't sit well with some fans, and it does have amazingly over-the-top references to terrorism and 9/11, I have to admit that the new cast and the filmmaking prowess had me on the edge of my seat the entire length of the film. Benedict Cumberbatch can monologue like no one else (as one of my friends commented), the new cast now fully owns the characters they have inhabited (try to imagine anyone else working right now as Scotty), it had amazing Dolby Atmos sound, and the characters bounced off of each other in very interesting ways. I do feel that it basically hit the same story beats for the crew as the previous film, but, I didn't mind as it worked so well in all other aspects for me, I can give it a pass. Bring on another Star Trek film!

11- PACIFIC RIM- This movie is about giant robots beating up and battling giant monsters! This film has everything that your inner 9 year old would have loved. When I walked into the theater, I wanted nothing more than robots battling monsters and I got it in spades! I also got an amazingly well constructed film that had some of the best "world building" I have ever seen. The first ten minutes of this film could have been its own movie, but it is just the pre-credit sequence! This film has great fun characters, amazing special effects, a sure handed director at the helm, a pounding exciting score, fantastic Dolby Atmos sound (noticing a trend?), and a pure sense of fun, this is my "guilty pleasure of the year", but I had a blast! It is also dedicated to the memory of Ray harryhausen, which made me tear up at the end. A fun, fun film!

10- GRAVITY- While it does not have the greatest plot- 2 astronauts get stranded in space and have to find a way to get back to Earth, I did not have a more tense moviegoing experience all year! I had people sitting on both sides of me and using the armrests, so I had to hold my drink mug in my lap. At the end of the 90 minutes, I almost literally had to peel my fingers out of the handle. Sandra Bullock holds the screen as the most outwardly frightened of the 2 astronauts stranded. She grounds the film with her terror and resignation to the circumstances while Clooney is the voice of reason and adds some slight touches of much needed humor for the situation. This film is amazing on a technical level, keeps you riveted throughout, and is an amazing roller coaster ride of emotions as well. Some laugh as Bullock is barking along with the dogs (you'll know what I mean when you see it) but for me, it was a last touchback to home. It was a daring performance and although the film almost lost me during what seemed like a very contrived character arrival, it worked and brought me back for the breathless climax. An amazing technical and emotional feat!

9- IRON MAN 3- Shane Black is known for bringing his sharp humor into the tired "buddy cop" formula in the 80's when he wrote Lethal Weapon. He then wrote Last Boy Scout and Last Action Hero, and Long Kiss Goodnight. He then disappeared for a while and came back in force with Kiss Kiss Bang bang back in 2007, which starred then-working-for-a-comeback Robert Dwoney Jr in one of the strangest and funniest films ever made. He brings that same sense of humor to Iron man 3. While some feel that his treatment of The Mandarin ruined the character (go back and read the comics, it is not as though those have changed since the release of the film), I found it a fabulous twist and a great bit of acting from ben kingsley. Downey really brings his PTSD from "the new York Incident" shown in The Avengers into stark relief, and the connection to Gwyneth Paltrow as pepper Pots really is the core of the relationships here. The plot shows that our past really does make us who we are and, in some cases, may come and bite us in the butt, but it is all about how we deal with our past that makes us who we are. I loved the Shane Black touch added to the Marvel structure along with the great actors!

8- CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES- Let me make it absolutely clear- I don't really like the Friday the 13th films. They are fun and cheesy, but, in all actuality, they are really not that good. Any of them! However, after watching this 7 hour documentary that basically gives 30 minutes to the making of each film in the series, it is very clear why- the studio wanted them cheap, quick, and didn't really want some of the quality ideas that were floated. This documentary is done by the same team who made Never Sleep Again- the 4 hour documentary about the Elm Street films, and, as a behind the scenes documentary, it ranks right up there with the 3 hour documentary about the making of Alien 3. Even my wife, Aleisha, who has never made it through a full Friday the 13th film, was enthralled and probably watched a total of about an hour of this doc and is planning on watching it in its entirety soon. It is absolutely essential if you are interested at all in moviemaking!

7- WORLD'S END- This is not as funny of a film as 'Hot Fuzz', but it is actually more daring and more human than any of the other films that Pegg/ Frost/ and Wright have done. Gary King (Pegg) gets his 5 best friends from high school back together to hit 12 pubs for a pint all in one night and finish "The Golden Mile" which they started but never finished on their graduation night 20 years ago. They find that you can never go home again as there is something strange and sinister about their hometown. Pegg plays a perfect guy stuck in his teens trying to relive his "perfect night" while this time Nick Frost plays the straight man as the one in the group with a grudge still held after all these years. It does turn into a "Body Snatchers" type of film, but with deep characters and emotional connections that ground the wackiness in reality. Even with all the craziness, there are some spectacular dramatic beats and it takes a real chance with the ending. If more films could be like this- a perfect mix of humor, action, and drama- more people would want to go to the theaters on a regular basis.

6- DALLAS BUYER'S CLUB- While this is a very tough and gritty film, the main storyline, based on a true story, of a man in the mid-80's who tries to help himself and others with AIDS, while the FDA is still attempting to find drugs that work to help slow down the disease. Matthe McCaughnahey again hammers home the lead role of Ron Woodroof with a ferocity of purpose and jared Leto's transformation into a transgendered person who becomes Woodroof's partner. The message is as subtle as a sledgehammer but the acting draws you in and never lets go- a very powerful film.

5- SAVING MR. BANKS- As can be seen in Crystal Lake memories, my Number 8 film, it is amazing that any movie is able to be released with all of the decisions and behind the scenes struggles that there are to contend with. This shines the light on one of them- PL Travers signing off on letting Walt Disney turn the book of Mary Poppins into a film. While 'Saving Mr Banks glosses over some issues (Travers NEVER ended up liking the film- thus the reason there were never any sequels made and the fact that the people who made the broadway play could have none of the people who worked on the film be creatively involved), it still has a lot of emotional honesty and shows the creative process ina way that is not normally seen. Emma Thompson and Tom hanks are both terrific, as always, but it is the supporting cast that really brings this movie to life- Bradley Whitford, BJ Novak, Jason, Schwarzman, Kathy Baker, Colin Ferrel, Rachel Griffiths, and Ruth Wilson all make this film astoundingly better, but the MVP award actually has to go to Paul Giamatti as the driver assigned to Travers who is sweet, upbeat, and becomes a real friend and confidante. In another year, this easily could have been my number one film- an astoundingly great movie that hits the heart, soul, and discusses the struggles of the creative process as well. Make sure you watch the credits for pictures of the actual people involved and actual audio recordings of PL Travers in the story meetings!

4- WAY, WAY BACK- An astoundingly great film that gets better every time I see it. The big strokes of the storyline is that an awkward teenager goes to a summer beach house with his mom and her new "male significant other" as he tries to deal with his life changing around him. He gradually finds acceptance and gets self-confidence and finds himself. Nothing new there. However, the boyfriend of the mom, played by Steve Carrell, could have been a mustache twirling bad guy and the film paints him in a way that he could be viewed as such, but by what we actually see and hear, he is a flawed man attempting to do his best to bring a woman and her son into his life and failing miserably. Carell shows that even the "bad guys" are not actively trying to be bad. Toni Colette as his conflicted mom, struggling to find the balance between her new man and her son is heart breaking. Sam Rockwell is the obvious stand out as a man-child running the local water park who hires the teenager and helps him with his self-esteem. He has many hilarious one-liners (my favorite is the Footloose reference), but also bares the character's soul near the end when he discusses the realities of his life. Anna Sophia Robb continues to show she has the acting skills of someone twice her age and makes the "girl next door" an actual human being and not just a stereotype. Maya Rudolph, Jim Rash, Nat Faxon, and Allison janney also turn in great comedic performances that round out the cast. I love that the end seems to many people like a happy ending with a definite conclusion, but, at closer glance shows that the only things resolved are that the teenager has gained self-esteem and that his mom has his back. Nothing is closed or perfect- just like life.

3- PHILOMENA- What seems at first glance to be "Oscar bait" as a woman tries to find her son who was adopted out from under her by the nuns of the convent where she was living at the time, turns into a very soulful film about love, forgiveness, longing, and family. Judy Dench is perfect as the older Philomena, as is Sophie Kennedy Clark who plays the younger version of Philomena, who is searching for her son. Steve Coogan, who also wrote and produced this film, plays the reporter who discovers the story and helps Philomena research and find out what happened to her son. Although the mystery is solved almost halfway through the film, the movie still takes amazing twists and turns as we discover more about the son and his trials and where he ended up. There are some that think it is anti-religion and anti-Catholicism, but I feel just the opposite. I feel that it shows what the true love of Christ can do and the true power of forgiveness. An amazingly sweet, small, perfectly acted film with the right doses of humor and drama.

2- ABOUT TIME- This film was written and directed by the same man who made Love Actually. It follows the life of a young man who, on his 21st birthday, is told by his dad (Bill Nighy) that he has the ability to time travel into his past (only his own past- he can't go back and kill Hitler, for example) and make his life the best it can be. The first 45 minutes or so are basically a romantic comedy and focus on him finding and dating and marrying the perfect girl (Rachel McAdams). It has one the best montages of showing them as they date by just staying in one place in the London subway system and showing them as they walk by the same spot as they date, move in together, and become close. I love the fact that after a hilarious, horrendously mishap- and- rain-filled wedding day, he asks his new bride, "Would you prefer if we had been married on a sunnier day?" and you can see the wheels turning that he is going to go back in time to provide a "Perfect" wedding day, that she tells him that no, it was perfect because it was their wedding day. Life is filled of the unpredictable and that is what makes it life. After the wedding, the film switches gears and becomes a testament to the importance of family, love, life, and making every moment count. Although there is a lot of time travel in this film, it is not at all about the time travel. It is used to show us what truly is important in life and that every day can be perfect. A very touching, sweet, film.

1-UNFINISHED SONG- This is one of the most clich d films imaginable. Just by telling the main plot, you will be able to guess every single step that the plot of this film makes (well, almost- there are a couple of very minor subplots that go in different directions than they might in many Hollywood films.) I tried several times to move this film down the list, but I just couldn't. From the very first few notes of the song that plays over the opening credits all the way until the end credits, I was either laughing or crying every step of the way and I can't deny the power it had over me. Vanessa Redgrave is dying of cancer. She is married to the town grump, Terrence Stamp, who has an ongoing feud with their son, played by Christopher Eccleston. Redgrave gets involved in a senior citizens singing group which is directed by Gemma Arterton. As Redgrave gets sicker and needing more help to get to her singing group and Terence Stamp becomes more involved in taking his sick wife to the rehearsals and protecting her as much as he can from her impending death, we get to see the sweet soul of this man and his undying love and devotion for his wife. Is it really a shock to learn that Redgrave dies about halfway through the film? Not at all. Is it surprising that Stamp's grumpy heart grows 3 sizes, just like the Grinch's and that he will reconcile with his son? No. Are we surprised when Arterton starts to bring Stamp around to being in the group? Nope. But watching the 4 actors, at the top of their game, bringing their all to this simple and sweet story is a triumph of emotion and spirit. The truth in the emotions and the situations hits home. It's also the little things in the film. After his wife's death, Stamp ends up sleeping on the couch and having trouble with his sleep schedule. Heck, I sleep on the couch just when my wie goes out of town. I identified with that aspect and with the grief cycle and the loss. But also the joy and the connection to people that is in this film also hit home. Yes, it is all clich d, but, it doesn't matter. This is truly a film all about the journey and how well it is all put together and it has my ringing endorsement as my favorite film of the year!
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