Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Reel Opinion: The Best & Worst Films of 2013, Part 2

The Year in Film 2013 will unfortunately be often remembered for the disappointments more than the triumphs, thanks to an underachieving summer season. Some high-profile films underperformed with the critics (PACIFIC RIM, MAN OF STEEL) and at the box office (THE LONE RANGER), while others made risky moves which divided their own fanbases (IRON MAN 3, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS). With the summer conking out, the door was open for the winds of autumn to storm in and save the year, and save it…it did. This was a great year for indie and arthouse flicks, with just enough room for some big-nuts studio releases to make some noise.
With only ten spots in a Top 10 Best List (what a concept), some excellent films will always be left out. This Blogger highly recommends Ron Howard’s RUSH, Woody Allen’s BLUE JASMINE, Alexander Payne’s NEBRASKA, LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER, the double-whammy of Matthew McConaughey in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB and MUD, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, and the outstanding 3D conversion of JURASSIC PARK.
Now to business…
Director David O’ Russell was clearly inspired by Martin Scorsese’s GOODFELLAS when he put together AMERICAN HUSTLE, and that’s okay. His new film is a very stylistic look at crime in the 1970’s, and while not the tightest narrative it is held together by some of the most committed performances of the year by the very strong cast.
Scorsese himself was not about to be outdone. His WOLF OF WALL STREET mirrors his own GOODFELLAS (along with many of his other works) with its unbridled and unabashed look at greed in America. It is rude and relentless in its presentation, and shows just how bold, fearless, and energetic Scorsese still is despite senior citizen Status. Leonardo DiCaprio was let off the leash, and the sonic assault made for one of the most exhilarating theatre experiences of 2013.
Set against the backdrop of 1970’s Texas Hill Country, David Lowery’s AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS is very much a romantic Old West tale, complete with great characters on both sides of the law…all of which you find yourself pulling for by the end. Thick with atmosphere and stunningly beautiful, it is well-acted by everyone (Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Keith Carradine, Ben Foster), and it has an absolute timeless quality which hangs with you long after the lights rise.
Scott Cooper’s OUT OF THE FURNACE also sports the many romantic elements of an Old West fable. A deeply resonating family story revolving around two brothers, OUT OF THE FURNACE is bleak and beautiful, tragic and heartwarming, and ultimately an emotional ride. Performances by Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Forest Whitaker, Sam Shepard, and Zoe Saldana are full of fire and heart and it is very rewarding.
THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES stands tall as the most powerful family story of 2013. It is about fathers and sons…how the sons are aware of the sins of the fathers and yet follow the same path. It sprawls over a period of 15 years and becomes a multi-generational story not unlike THE GODFATHER films. Director Derek Cianfrance sets the film up in a literal three-act play, while never forgetting its one consistent theme of family.
The Coen Brothers’ INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS is a film saturated in folk music and character, and despite having the thinnest plot of any good film in 2013, it somehow becomes the most rewarding. It is hung on the shoulders of Oscar Isaac, who acts (and sings) his heart out in a film which gets better with every passing thought.

Despite its high-concept backdrop and reliance upon technology, Spike Jonze’s HER is the most human story of the year. Centered on a broken man (a brilliant and vulnerable Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with his highly-advanced, artificially intelligent computer, HER takes every element of romance and capitalizes on it, making for the most unique love story on the big screen since Kong fell for Ann.

There was only one way for Joss Whedon to follow-up his 2012 billion-dollar triumph THE AVENGERS, and that was a return to basics. Whedon’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is a light and quiet look at love and the games which comes with it. Sticking with The Bard’s original text and assembling a perfect cast, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is charming, fun, full of heart, and nothing short of a wonderful time at the theatre. MUCH ADO is this Blogger’s personal favorite of 2013.

Of all the films this Blogger screened in 2013, there is only one which had him literally staggering out of the theatre: Alfonso Cuaron’s GRAVITY. A simple survival tale set in space, Cuaron’s magnificent usage of 3D made for a stunning spectacle; never before has the vastness of outer space looked so beautiful and so dangerous at the same time, and more importantly…the visual effects played a role in the story-telling. A grand technical achievement it is, and has just enough character to latch on to in this hands-up roller-coaster.

And another grand achievement, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, is Reel Speak’s Best of 2013. Director Steve McQueen finally pulls back the curtain on slavery in America, giving us an unrelenting and unapologetic look at the things that happened and the people who were responsible for them. It is revolting and difficult to watch, but at the same we cannot take our eyes away from the screen. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives an emotionally draining performance, and McQueen shows the filmmaking discipline that most people spend their entire careers chasing after. 12 YEARS A SLAVE has the boldness and the relevance to rise up alongside of Steven Spielberg’s SCHINDLER’S LIST, but more importantly, it succeeds on its own merits of great acting and directing. 12 YEARS A SLAVE is a result of masterful work by everyone involved.

Best Films of 2013
1.       12 YEARS A SLAVE
2.       GRAVITY
4.       HER

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