This is part 2 of my 2013 Year in Review, in which I’ve ranked and briefly reviewed every new film I saw in 2013. Part 1 can be read here. Part 3 will be released tomorrow. Yesterday saw me dissing the 15 worst films I watched last year. Today I get to be a little more positive, discussing the middle 20, until we pull out the superlative guns for tomorrow’s Top 20. This is by no means a filler post though, as every film on today’s list comes with a recommendation to watch it.
This may have been the biggest surprise for me in 2013. I was expecting The Incredible Burt Wonderstone to be boring, unfunny and at times annoying, whereas in fact it was a genuinely enjoyable comedy, with some tremendous supporting performances, particularly from Jim Carrey as “Brain rapist” Steve Gray, an insane performer with bizarre notions as to what can be defined as magic. The main detractor, however, is unfortunately the lead performance. Steve Carell is often hilarious, but usually in a supporting role. When he’s put front-and-centre he can become annoying (except in The 40-Year Old Virgin). That’s definitely the case here, as his Burt Wonderstone is a prissy, preening egotist, who it’s very hard to root for. His sidekick, Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) had me in stitches when he attempted to take magic to third world countries. Also, Olivia Wilde. You can’t really go wrong there.
My mind continues to boggle at how, of the two animated-super-villains-turned-good-and-voiced-by-a-star-from-Anchorman movies we had in 2010, it was Despicable Me that garnered a sequel. Megamind is a far superior film, and one I’ve happily rewatched since, far more times than Despicable Me. The answer is pretty clear though; it’s the minions, those annoying yellow jelly beans with as many brain cells as eyes, and I suppose I can’t really blame Universal for commissioning the minions with their own film, due in 2015. This sequel sees more of the same from the first film, but with extra minion-action, which was at times fun, and Kristen Wiig and Steve Coogan were welcome additions to the cast.
38. Man of Steel
I was never going to love this film, as I’m far from being Superman’s biggest fan (though I enjoyed my recent first-time viewing of the 1978 movie). However, I’d expected to at least like it, what with the stellar cast of Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Jonathan and Martha Kent, Amy Adams as Lois Lane and Michael Shannon as General Zod. Alas, other than the casting decisions I liked nothing about this film, which suffered from Christopher Nolan’s producing – his real-world, gritty ethos fits perfectly with Batman, but Superman is a ridiculous, brightly coloured character, and should be treated as such. The lack of humour and over intensity took away any sense of fun that should have been present, and the last 30 minutes of two all-powerful beings beating the crap out of one another was boring after 5 minutes.
Steve Coogan again, this time playing strip club entrepreneur Paul Raymond through the second half pd the 20th century, from the inception of his first club, to his daughter’s funeral following a drug overdose. Coogan is great in the role, proving once again that he is highly underrated when it comes to dramatic performances (and for Michael Winterbottom again too, Coogan’s director of 24 Hour Party People and A Cock and Bull Story). Unfortunately the film itself is a little meandering and flat, though it’s spiced up by some sparky performances from Imogen Poots, Anna Friel, Tamsin Egerton and Chris Addison.
I’ve not seen 2013’s other white-house-under-siege movie, Roland Emmerich’s White House Down, but hopefully I’ll like it a bit more than Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen, which despite being billed as a large scale action movie unfortunately spent too much time sitting handcuffed to a railing in a bunker. Gerard Butler was decent as a former bodyguard, showing he should stick to the action genre rather than Katherine Heigl rom-coms, the villain was decent – unusual for these kinds of films – and Morgan Freeman was wheeled in for some reason, though it seems someone forgot to give him anything to do.
35. Zero Dark Thirty
(Released in the UK on 25th January 2013) I’ve realised recently that I’m not much of a Kathryn Bigelow fan. Whilst I liked Strange Days and didn’t mind The Hurt Locker (though admittedly they both deserve a re-watch), I’m far from enamoured with Point Break and I flat out didn’t really like Zero Dark Thirty. In fact, for the most part it was boring and drawn out – though considering it deals with the search for Bin Laden I can understand that perhaps that was the point. The final reel, showcasing the attack on the terrorist’s fortress, picked up the pace, but it wasn’t enough to save the film. A stellar cast (Jason Clarke, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt) some bizarre cameos (Mark Duplass? John Barrowman!?!?) and an incredible turn from Jessica Chastain were the only positives I could bring away from this Oscar contender I wish I hadn’t wasted my time with.
(Released in the UK on 26th April 2013) I saw this for the Richard Linklater retrospective over on the Lambcast, a show which taught me that not only do I know very little about the American indie director, but I’m also not a fan of many of his films, including Slacker and at least the first two parts of the Before trilogy (I’ve banned Before Midnight). Bernie, which received a UK release almost 2 years after it’s initial release at the Los Angeles Film Festival way back in 2011, was something of an exception for Mr. Linklater, however, as whilst I wasn’t fawning all over it, I didn’t hate it either. Jack Black reteams with his School of Rock director (that film I do love) to play Bernie Tiede, an ultra-polite, considerate and fastidious funeral worker, who strikes up a very close friendship with Shirley MacLaine’s bitter old crone Marjorie Nugent, until one day he can’t take any more of her derogatory comments, so he kills her and hides the body in the freezer. This was a decent film – it marks the turning point on this list from bad to good – especially during the later scenes when Matthew McConaughey’s small town lawyer is brought in to try and wrestle the protesting townsfolk into believing their beloved Bernie could be guilty of such a thing.
Schwarzenegger’s much-hyped comeback was met with disappointment from most audience members – if they went to see it at all – but I personally thoroughly enjoyed this relatively brainless action flick. Arnie plays Ray Owens, an aging small town sheriff, who finds his sleepy corner of Arizona is the only thing stopping a recently-escaped criminal in a souped-up Corvette from crossing the border into Mexico. It’s a by-the-numbers premise, but Arnie is always an engaging screen presence, and luckily Johnny Knoxville is in far less of the film than the advertising may have led you to believe. This is by no means a piece of art, but it makes for some harmless entertainment.
(Released in the UK on 1st February 2013) Had this managed to trim about thirty minutes from its excessive runtime I can guarantee it would have achieved a higher position, as long as none of those minutes were cut from the first twenty, featuring the greatest plane crash ever yet committed to film. Alas the rest of the film was somewhat depressing, watching Denzel Washington’s gloriously named alcoholic and drug-abusing pilot Whip Whitaker as he is put on trial for flying whilst under the influence (FUI) and attempts to kick his addictions, with the help of fellow addict Nicole (Kelly Reilly), and without the help of his regular dealer (John Goodman). Much has been made of the insulting unsubtle soundtrack, where every song choice is the most blatant reflection of the scene it’s in, right down to an elevator playing With A Little Help From My Friends immediately after Whip has – you guessed it – received a little help from his friends.
I can’t understand why this film was hated on so much. I loved the cast, the setting, the action and the violence. The only downsides were Sean Penn over-chewing the scenery as a rubber-faced Mickey Cohen, and every decision Ryan Gosling made for his smooth-talking yet Mickey Mouse-voiced Jerry Wooters. Why he went in that direction I just don’t know, but elsewhere I loved it all. Robert Patrick is my standout, as the Cohen-hunting gang’s old-timer, who seems to have stepped off the set of Tombstone. Some of the plot points were a little easy to guess – one of the team has a family at home, so he’s got a target on him from the start – but other than that I found this a delightful surprise.
Talk about a great premise – a romantic comedy, where a socially awkward guy fancies a girl who wants nothing to do with him. Mainly because she’s just ended a relationship with someone… that the main guy killed… and then ate his brain… because he’s a zombie. I wasn’t holding out much hope for this movie, seeing as I read the book recently and it went in some damn odd directions – in the first few chapters, our protagonist R (Nicholas Hoult) marries a female zombie, and they’re given some zombie children to care for – but director Jonathan Levine wisely opted to eschew the more weird sub-plots in favour of focussing on the Shakespearian romance between R and the living object of his affections, Julie (Teresa Palmer). I’m a sucker for a decent zombie movie (mild spoiler for tomorrow’s list) and when one comes out with an interesting twist – like Shaun of the Dead, for instance – then you can count me in. I still can’t quite get my head around the skeletal ‘Boneys’ though, but I’m glad Analeigh Tipton is moving up in the world.
The first RED, which saw Bruce Willis’ retired black-ops agent reassemble his old team for one last job, is a regular feature in our house, so it’s no surprise we all liked the sequel too, though admittedly not nearly as much as the first one. It’s lacking in a few things, namely Morgan Freeman, Ernest Borgnine and Karl Urban, and unfortunately David Thewlis, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Neal McDunough aren’t quite the replacements I wanted. Still, Mary-Louise Parker’s Sarah remains one of my favourite recent female characters – her affection for Willis’ Frank is waning now they aren’t in danger any more – and Byung-hun Lee is badass at fighting people. Brian Cox seems to have been brought back for one very short, and very bizarre shoe-sniffing scene with Helen Mirren’s returning assassin Victoria, but I suppose we can ignore that if he promises not to do it again.
(Released in the UK on 8th February 2013) Make a film about making films and I’ll go see it, especially if the film being made in the film I’m watching is a film I like watching and am interested in the making of, such as Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal Psycho. Whilst most of the behind-the-scenes gossip we’re privy to is hardly groundbreaking in terms of Hollywood mythology – Hitchcock was mean to his actors! The studio didn’t want to give him any money! – and the climax is hardly surprising – he made the film, and it wasn’t half bad! – it’s still great fun to see it all happening. I loved James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins – although he seemed to skip straight to Norman Bates – and Scarlett Johansson impressed me for the first time in a long while as Janet Leigh, completely nailing the driving sequence.
(Released in the UK on 22nd March 2013) Another surprise, this true story of a prank phone call taken way too far sees an impossibly pretty fast food employee (Dreama Walker) being subjected to a series of increasingly demeaning acts at the will of a prankster masquerading as a cop, on the phone to her manager. It’s uncomfortable viewing, but engrossing none the left, and makes you feel in dire need of a shower afterwards. It makes you feel a little sick inside to know that not only did this all happen, but several times, and you never heard about it until the film got made. Who knows what else people are getting up to out there, just for kicks?
I love me some Michael Shannon, so you tell me there’s a film with him in the lead role and I’m there. I recently watched Bug and My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? for exactly the same reason, and this film falls directly in between those two (Bug is better, My Son worse). The Iceman tells the story of Richard Kuklinski (Shannon), who attempted to balance a life as a hitman, as well as having an oblivious wife (Winona Ryder) and two kids. The performances are all better than the film overall, which tends to drag its feet after a little while, but it’s worth it to see the likes of Chris Evans, James Franco and David Schwimmer all unexpectedly pop up in roles you’d never expect them in, and all almost unrecognisably hidden beneath facial hair. David Schwimmer, as a lackey for Ray Liotta’s crime boss, is the spitting image of former Arsenal goalkeeper David Seaman. Seriously, look it up, it’s uncanny.
(Released in the UK on 18th January 2013) I’d heard a lot about this film before seeing it, mostly with regards to the general public being appalled that John Hawkes was shunned for an Oscar nomination as iron lung-dweller Mark, whilst Helen Hunt received one for mostly-naked sex surrogate Cheryl. I don’t begrudge Hunt her nomination – though I’d have been shocked if she’d won – but I’m almost appalled that Hawkes wasn’t even nominated. I’d have happily swapped out either Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook) or Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables) in favour of Hawkes. Not that Cooper or Jackman turned in bad performances, I just think Hawkes’ was better. The film overall is great too, chronicling Mark’s mission to lose his virginity before his ailments do away with him. It’s a tad formulaic at times, but it doesn’t resort to too much heartstring-pulling. It could have been a schmaltzy mess, but it danced the fine line admirably.
(Released in the UK on 8th February 2013) I’ve never been too much of a gamer, with only the likes of the Grand Theft Auto series, Guitar Hero/Rock Band and some of the early Lego games being ones I’m at all familiar with, but that didn’t stop me enjoying Wreck-It Ralph immensely. It’s a novel concept – an arcade game bad guy (John C. Reilly, perfectly cast) gets tired of being shunned by his game’s hero and victims, so decides to try his luck in other games instead – and it was pulled off beautifully. From the nods to the retro games of days gone by, to the 8-bit movements of the inhabitants of the building Ralph terrorises, there are so many little details to take notice of. The story could have been improved – I could have done with less Kandy Krush, and more hopping through other games – but this did what it set out to achieve – I wanted to play some games again.
Another film I went to see purely for a Lambcast, Machete Kills upped the ante from 2010’s Danny Trejo-starring Machete, itself based on a trailer from Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse. The sequel had a lot to live up to – let’s not forget the first film features a rope jump using a living man’s intestines – but this movie delivered even more insanity in the form of Mel Gibson’s sci-fi obsessed villain, Luthor Voz, further intestinal trauma (this time involving a helicopter) and the Chameleon – a killer with the ability to transform their entire appearance once they have become compromised. I had some issues – Lady Gaga was given more screen time than the likes of Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Antonio Banderas – and Sofia Vergara’s machine gun bikini was ludicrous beyond belief, but I had a lot of fun with this, and I look forward to a sequel… set in space.
The final addition to this list, having been viewed on New Year’s Eve, is a film I’d intended to see in theatres but alas life got in the way. I won’t write too much about it here, as I intend to write a full post in a few days for the guys at Blueprint: Review, so for now I’ll just say it was a return to the likes of Pitch Black – Vin Diesel’s badass fighting for survival against mercenaries and aliens all trying to kill him.
Most of the film’s on this list have only been seen by me once, either in theatres or via DVD rental. Pacific Rim, however, is the first one here to have been seen in both formats. Had I left this just at the single viewing, then this movie would be sitting pretty damn near the top of tomorrow’s list – in 3rd place in fact – as upon leaving the cinema this was my then-favourite film of the year, as I’d loved every minute of the giant robots beating the living crap out of the giant monsters from another dimension. However, unfortunately for it I received a Blu-Ray for Christmas, and we sat down to watch it on Boxing Day, during which, under closer analysis, this isn’t really that good of a film. It’s entirely by-the-numbers stuff, with cardboard cutout characters comprised of every cliché going – the only guy for the job, mourning the loss of his brother, the inexperienced rookie/love interest, the seasoned hard-assed professional dying of a mystery affliction, hell there’s even a dog thrown in for literally no reason. The plot sets up strands that go nowhere or flat out ignores them later on – the robots, or Jaegers, need two pilots to handle them, and the pilots must be ‘drift compatible,’ which generally means close blood relatives, but our hero Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) instantly connects with complete stranger Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) with no-one even batting an eyelid – and my Torchwood‘s Burn Gorman is being given roles this significant I’ll never know, as the guy does nothing but annoy me. The only reason it scored so highly was because I really did love it that first time around, and the fight sequences between the Jaegers and the Kaiju are phenomenal in terms of realisation and scale. One thing that annoyed me though – one of the robot teams is comprised of three brothers. Two of them control an arm and a leg each, leaving the third with the robot’s one-remaining arm. Why in the hell didn’t it have two extra arms, si it’s two limbs to a person? Just saying. Anyway, I own this, and I’ll definitely sit down and watch it again some day, as I just hope my second viewing wasn’t crushed by my massive re-expectations going back in.
So, that was the middle bunch in this trilogy. Be sure to come back tomorrow, to find out my twenty best film of 2013!