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Cinema 2013: Best & Worst - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Cinema 2013: Best & Worst
As always, I have a particular criteria for coming up with my "best" movies of the year -- I don't bother trying to be as objective about it as others might. Making an impact is my most important barometer -- that is, making an impact in a positive way (for the best-of list), or a negative way (for the worst-of list). Thus, these are the ten best movies that impacted me the most, and were thus the most satisfying and memorable:

fruitvale station10. Fruitvale Station A-

A heartbreaking slice of life, focusing on his last day, of Oscar Grant, the real-life young black man shot to death by a BART police officer at the title station in 2008. Even five years ago (exactly: the incident occurred on New Year's Eve) the ubiquity of smart phones was evident, and it was captured on many grainy videos taken by bystanders on the train. The movie smartly avoids oversimplifying any part of what occurs, and Oscar is far from a saint. Although he is making efforts to better himself and the life of his family, that's really immaterial to how undeserving of the assault Oscar was, which this film makes eminently clear with articulate film making.

What I said then: It feels like a fitting way to honor the spirit of the man, in a way that is increasingly riveting, if also increasingly horrifying, to watch.

don jon9. Don Jon A-

Joseph Gordon-Levitt's debut feature film, which he also wrote, reveals a natural confidence that leaves us looking forward to more from him. Here he also plays the lead and title role, a porn-addicted lothario thrown by a woman he actually falls for emotionally (Scarlett Johansson) -- who is just as lost in the fantasy of romantic comedies as Don is in the fantasy of porn. If the concept sounds iffy, rest assured that the story is solid, with great performances all around. Rarely is any movie, let alone a feature debut, this insightful. Tony Danza and Glenne Headly as Don's parents, as well as Brie Larsen as his sister, are all an added delight.

What I said then: This is a story that is funny, poignant and layered; the rare comedy with depth and humanity.

captain phillips8. Captain Philips A-

This movie has its detractors, particularly among those who haven't actually seen it. Reports of audiences cheering when the huge U.S. Navy shoots out the Somali pirates are blown out of proportion. Paul Greengrass presents something far more nuanced here than jingoism, and presents the Somalis as fully realized characters. We get some insight into the socio-economic circumstances of their home country, and what underlies the desperation of their actions. Tom Hanks is stellar as the cargo ship captain taken hostage, never presented as a "movie-hero" but as a terrified man making critical decisions under dire circumstances in an attempt to save the lives of his crew as well as his own. It's one of the most gripping and suspenseful films released all year.

What I said then: Captain Phillips really is so absorbing that it's practically impossible to pay attention to anything else

her7. her A-

A love story unlike any other, here Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix at the top of his game) falls in love with his artificially intelligent operating system in a future Los Angeles. It's not as dumb as it sounds! Especially not with Scarlett Johansson as the sexy-vulnerable voice of Samantha, the computer. This may be the story of a relationship between a man and its machine, but rarely is a movie so successful in its exploration of the very nature of falling in love.

What I said then: Spike Jonez has crafted an unusually illuminating and touching love story that is both unlike any other, and reminiscent of any time anyone has fallen in love.

inside llewyn davis6. Inside Llewyn Davis A-

The Coen Brothers deliver once again, this time with a misanthropic tale of a folk singer struggling for success just as the genre is about to fade away, in the early sixties. Oscar Isaac is wonderfully understated as Llewyn Davis, couch surfing among the homes of a decreasing group of friends in the months after his former singing partner committed suicide. He travels from New York to Chicago and back, much of the way with shamelessly scene-stealing cat, many other characters drifting in an out of his life with varying levels of contempt. This is a dark comedy the likes of which could only be pulled off by the Coens, the rare breed of filmmakers who can make contemptuous characters fun. Also the music is beautiful.

What I said then: There's much more to Inside Llewyn Davis than what's on the surface, and it's the kind of movie one can expect to get richer upon repeat viewings.

short term 125. Short Term 12 A

This movie came and went with high critical acclaim yet little notice, which is a tragedy. Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr. play a twentysomething couple staffing a foster care facility, connecting with the kids as former foster children themselves. This is a situation ripe for volatile emotions, and writer-director Destin Cretton tackles them beautifully, with a great cast of children of varying ages playing fully realized characters. Here is a naked emotional honesty, mercifully devoid of histrionics or melodrama, very rarely seen.

What I said then: This is cinema at its best: an artful reflection of real life, with unpredictable but alternately tragic and delightful results.

the place beyond the pines4. The Place Beyond the Pines A

A three-act story with a common thread and delightful surprises in the telling, even if it's not always the most uplifting. What seems for the first hour or so to be a doomed love story between a stunt motorcyclist (Ryan Gosling) and his estranged girlfriend (Eva Mendes) presenting a one-year-old son he didn't know existed, shifts gears to the moral dilemma faced by the police officer (Bradley Cooper) who shoots him after a series of bank robberies. And then comes even a third, less realistic twist, of their two sons befriending each other fifteen years later. But this movie is a singular, if wide-ranging, vision, completely absorbing from beginning to end.

What I said then: Rarely is a film so wide in scope so successful at clarity of themes and storytelling.

before midnight3. Before Midnight

Richard Linklater takes the story farther than virtually any other love story dares to go: years into the relationship. Much of this movie is spent wondering if this is the story of Celine and Jesse's end, but really it's about how much we root for them to make it -- nine years after Before Sunset and eighteen years after Before Sunrise. This may be the third in a series, but it stands perfectly on its own, heartbreakingly and touchingly honest -- and often, still funny -- about the challenges facing long-term commitments. This movie is almost all dialogue, but only Linklater can make conversations alone so compelling.

What I said then: There is something decidedly low-tech about this production, and it works splendidly.

gravity2. Gravity A

Hands down the most entertaining movie of the year, Gravity is a must-see experience that, unlike most movies presented in the format, really is best seen in 3D. Alfonso Cuarón places you right in the middle of the action, in outer space -- and boy, is there a lot of it. It's so gripping it's exhausting -- yet undeniably thrilling. This movie has plenty wrong with it, from the well-publicized scientific impossibilities to some fairly contrived dialogue, all of which is completely made up for by the very nature of the experience. To the lay person, it feels real -- and that, in pop entertainment, is an important distinction. The use of 3D transcends gimmickry in what are easily the most spectacular special effects of any film this year, and dialogue aside, Sandra Bullock gives a genuinely Oscar-worthy performance in what is by far the larger of only two speaking roles in the movie.

What I said then: Gravity is so gripping it's almost a relief it's only ninety minutes long -- the perfect length for a movie like this, that leaves your muscles aching because you're holding on to anything around you (your drink glass, the chair) so tightly.

12 years a slave1. 12 Years a Slave A

You want the most fun movie of 2013? See Gravity. "Fun" is not found in any part of 12 Years a Slave, the best movie of 2013 the same way that Schindler's List was the best film of 1993. It's a story that demands telling, is beautiful and devastating at once, and offers a perspective heretofore unseen in mainstream American film. This is the movie that is likely to sweep the Academy Awards in 2014, including Chiwetel Ejiofor as the born-free black man captured and sold into slavery, and Lupita Nyong'o as the lifelong slave torn from her children and oppressed and abused from all sides. Solomon Northup may cling onto the hope of returning to freedom, but he's surrounded by those who don't have even that luxury -- this film's pointed reminder of the contradiction and unnaturalness of slavery.

What I said then: It's possible that no other American film so succinctly illustrates the massive moral hypocrisy that was the institution of slavery.

Five Worst -- or rather, my five least favorite of those I saw

Bear in mind that I do not get paid for writing reviews. If I did, then you would see far worse movies on this section of my list. But since I don't, I already avoid seeing the truly most terrible films of the year, as it's pretty easy to see which ones will be absolute shit. But, sometimes I have high, or even moderate hopes for a movie, which still disappoints. That's what happened with these five:

unhung hero5. Unhung Hero C+

Possibly the most disingenuous film of the year, this is the story of a man who parlayed his small penis into inexplicably more than 15 minutes -- but still a limited amount -- of fame. As he travels around the world in search of penis-enlargement techniques we all know are not going to work, this is the makings of one of the most contrived documentaries ever made. And now he travels around the country supporting this stupid movie, which amounts to little more than his exploitation of his own tiny cock. At least it has a few amusing moments in it.

What I said then: If suspension of disbelief is a challenge in a documentary, there's a problem.

escape from tomorrow4. Escape from Tomorrow C+

The guerrilla filmmaking inside Disney theme parks is pretty interesting, except it favors surrealism over coherence. And a disappointing lot of the movie doesn't even take place inside the parks, instead taking place in hotel rooms. Yawn. Particularly without a story that makes any sense, you'll need to do better at getting past the Disney behemoth with footage inside their properties for me to be all that impressed.

What I said then: Writer-director Randy Moore is clearly going for a surrealistic take on Disney themes and imagery, but the presentation is largely impenetrable, lacking in the depth he's presumably going for.

john dies at the end3. John Dies at the End C

Spoiler alert! Not even John's death delivers any satisfaction in this movie, and we know it's coming. I guess I should have learned my lesson from Bubba Ho-Tep, the decade-old movie also directed by Don Coscarelli: its sort of fun for about ten minutes, and then all the bizarro chaos outlasts its welcome. Making even less sense than Escape From Tomorrow, this movie isn't even as funny as it promises. Everyone involved seems to be amusing themselves far more than they're amusing the audience. The one redeeming quality it has is that the title character is easy on the eyes. And did I mention he dies? In the middle. These guys are liars in addition to being incoherent.

What I said then: Maybe I should have been on hallucinogens while watching this movie.

upstream color2. Upstream Color C

This movie makes no sense at all. I'm detecting a theme here. It has a lot in common with John Dies at the End, actually, except this one doesn't even try to be amusing. Instead it's more brooding and contemplative about its psychedelic depictions of mystery drug usage (whether voluntary or forced). And the caterpillar-like creatures. And the pig farmer. Are you lost? You are not alone.

What I said then: This is the kind of movie that intellectuals, and independent cinema snobs, will watch and think it's absolutely clear what it's about, while people like me watch the entire film fly right over their heads and feel like idiots for not understanding.

elysium1. Elysium C

At least this one makes sense. But what makes it worse is the absolute failure of its promise: to be a blockbuster science fiction satire of a drug-induced society addicted to technology. It should be entertaining, at least, right? It's hard be when there are so many distracting lapses in logic, not least of which is the main character's immune system-enhancing exoskeleton that's screwed into his body through his shirt. Don't even get me started on one of the worst parts of Jodie Foster's career, as the villainous Secretary Delacourt with a stupid accent and all of the worst lines. All this movie has going for it are its special effects, which mean nothing when its script is derivative to the point of meaninglessness.

What I said then: This movie works too hard to insult our intelligence -- while taking itself way too seriously -- to be any fun.

And now, below, the perennial film log . . .

1. 1/5 Zero Dark Thirty B+
2. 1/8 The Impossible B
3. 1/10 Life of Pi A (2nd viewing)
4. 1/12 Rust and Bone B-
5. 1/16 Monsters, Inc. 3D A- ***
6. 1/29 Amour A-
7. 2/2 Oscar Nominated Shorts: Live Action A-
8. 2/4 Oscar Nominated Shorts: Animation B+
9. 2/6 Quartet B-
10. 2/9 Identiy Thief B-
11. 2/22 Django Unchained B+ (2nd viewing)
12. 2/23 Sound City B
13. 2/27 John Dies at the End C
14. 3/1 Life of Pi A (3rd viewing)
15. 3/3 Jack the Giant Slayer B
16. 3/6 A Place at the Table B+
17. 3/9 Oz the Great and Powerful C+
18. 3/11 Yossi B
19. 3/13 The Long Kiss Goodnight B ***
20. 3/17 The Incredible Burt Wonderstone B+
21. 3/21 The Gatekeepers B+
22. 3/23 Admission B
23. 3/24 Spring Breakers B
24. 3/27 Ginger & Rosa B+
25. 4/5 Jurassic Park in 3D A-
26. 4/7 Room 237 C+
27. 4/10 The Place Beyond the Pines A
28. 4/15 Upstream Color C
29. 4/18 No B+
30. 4/20 Oblivion C+
31. 4/24 The Company You Keep C+
32. 5/1 Disconnect B+
33. 5/7 Iron Man 3 B
34. 5/8 Mud B+
35. 5/11 The Great Gatsby B-
36. 5/18 Star Trek Into Darkness A-
37. 5/19 What Maisie Knew B **
38. 5/24 In a World... B **
39. 5/25 The Spectacular Now B+ **
40. 5/26 C.O.G. A- **
41. 5/29 Frances Ha B+
42. 6/1 Now You See Me B
43. 6/4 Unhung Hero C+ **
44. 6/8 Crystal Fairy B+ **
45. 6/9 Furever B **
46. 6/12 This Is the End B+
47. 6/19 Before Midnight A
48. 6/22 Man of Steel C+
49. 6/25 Monsters University B-
50. 6/27 The Kings of Summer B+
51. 7/1 The Heat B
52. 7/5 The Bling Ring B
53. 7/6 The Lone Ranger B-
54. 7/11 White House Down B-
55. 7/13 The Way, Way Back B
56. 7/15 Unfinished Song B-
57. 7/17 Much Ado About Nothing B
58. 7/19 Star Trek Into Darkness A- (2nd viewing)
59. 7/24 I'm So Excited! C+
60. 7/28 Blue Jasmine B+
61. 7/31 Pacific Rim C+
62. 8/6 Fruitvale Station A-
63. 8/8 Blackfish B+
64. 8/10 Elysium C
65. 8/12 Europa Report B
66. 8/14 Still Mine B+
67. 8/18 The Butler B+
68. 8/20 Prince Avalanche B
69. 8/24 The World's End B+
70. 8/30 I Declare War B-
71. 9/2 The Wolverine B+
72. 9/4 The Big Lebowski A- ***
73. 9/8 Drinking Buddies B
74. 9/11 Short Term 12 A
75. 9/13 The Family B-
76. 9/15 The Sound of Music A ***
77. 9/18 Spartacus B+ ***
78. 9/25 Prisoners A-
79. 9/26 Lawrence of Arabia A-
80. 9/30 Enough Said B+
81. 10/3 Mars Attacks! A ***
82. 10/5 Rush B+
83. 10/6 Gravity A
84. 10/9 Don Jon A-
85. 10/11 Captain Phillips A-
86. 10/16 Escape from Tomorrow C+
87. 10/19 Carrie B
88. 10/23 A.C.O.D. B
89. 10/28 The Counselor B
90. 11/3 12 Years a Slave A
91. 11/3 Hedwig and the Angry Inch A ***
92. 11/5 All Is Lost B+
93. 11/7 Last Vegas B-
94. 11/10 Dallas Buyers Club A-
95. 11/12 Thor: The Dark World C+
96. 11/17 Kill Your Darlings B+
97. 11/19 Annie Hall A ***
98. 11/25 Nebraska B+
99. 11/26 Blue is the Warmest Color B+
100. 11/29 The Hunger Games: Catching Fire B+
101. 12/1 August: Osage County B+
102. 12/2 The Wolf of Wall Street B
103. 12/5 Philomena B+
104. 12/8 The Great Beauty C+
105. 12/10 Out of the Furnace C+
106. 12/11 Inside Llewyn Davis A-
107. 12/17 Gremlins A ***
108. 12/20 Saving Mr. Banks C+
109. 12/21 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug B-
110. 12/26 American Hustle B+
111. 12/27 her A-
112. 12/29 Inside Llewyn Davis A- (2nd viewing)
113. 12/30 Frozen B+

*SIFF advance screening
**SIFF festival screening
***Re-issue (no review)


1 comment or Leave a comment
tommy50702 From: tommy50702 Date: January 15th, 2015 08:38 am (UTC) (Link)
Nice list. I haven't seen any of the worst movies your included.
1 comment or Leave a comment