Sheldon’s Favorite 15 Movies for 2013 – Plus One!

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Thanks to a nasty flu bug, I missed a lot of screenings in December, so I’ve spent most of January trying to get caught up – only to realise that it’s just not possible (the faster I run, the behinder I get). So, then…

Every year, someone declares ‘It’s been a lousy year for movies!’ And, like a Pavlovian thing, someone responds, ‘It’s been a great year for movies!’ Both are correct – it all depends on individual perception. Most critics hated The Lone Ranger – but not me, or Michelle, for that matter. Most critics swooned over The Spectacular Now – I preferred another coming of age movie from last summer. It was a year that gave us Pacific Rim, The World’s End, Much Ado About Nothing, Philomena  and Captain Phillips. It also gave us The Counselor, A Good Day To Die Hard and Movie 43 (which I have labored to remove from my memory bank). On balance, it was a very good year for movies.

Anyroad, since trying to get caught up is a mug’s game, I’ll… to quote Leo Kottke, I’ll give you what I got.

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A re-imagined classic western and a fresh take on a classic novel. Both imperfect but each almost overwhelming as pure experience.

14 – The World’s End (Focus Features)

The final chapter in Edgar Wright’s Cornetto/Three Flavor Trilogy is a smart buddy/quest/alien invasion movie that works as all three as well as being a loving send-up of same. One of the funniest movies of the year

13 – Closed Circuit (Focus Features)

Opposing lawyers (and former lovers) on what should be the open and shut show trial of an alleged terrorist learn too much for their own good. The kind of taut, intelligent thriller that the British excel at.

12 – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Warner Brothers)

Walter Mitty lives mostly in his imagination until one day, a missing negative sends him on a real adventure. Smart, odd and likely to worm its way into your soul if you approach it with an open mind and heart.

11 – The Croods (DreamWorks Animation)

A family of Neanderthals face a world that is literally in upheaval. If Frozen hadn’t come along, this would have been the best animated feature film of the year.

10 – Much Ado About Nothing (Lionsgate)

Joss Whedon and his repertory company tackle Shakespeare and turn the Bard’s lightest, fluffiest comedy into the kind of experience that inspires awe – and laughter – lots of laughter. Setting it in the present makes it much more relatable and the cast makes the language comfortable. Quite a feat.

9 – Pacific Rim (Warner Bros.)

Guillermo Del Toro’s towering take on mecha vs. kaiju manga/anime. Brilliant director, brilliant cast, brilliant 3D, appropriately weird script. A genuinely unique experience.

8 – The Way Way Back (20th Century Fox)

Yet another coming of age/best summer ever movie – this time made superior by a smart script, a terrific cast (one of Sam Rockwell’s best performances) and a lead teen (Liam James) who is so perfectly imperfect that it is astonishing. Let others rave about the (to me) tepid The Spectacular Now – I’ll take The Way Way Back every time.

7 – Captain Phillips (Columbia Pictures)

Pirates take a merchant ship. True story. Paul Greengrass’ clever juxtaposition of Captain Phillips going to work and the pirates doing, essentially, the same brings both a reliability and an unexpected empathy to a terrifying situation. Hanks deserved an Oscar® nomination.

6 – Fruitvale Station (Anchor Bay)

If not for the cell phone footage that opens Fruitvale Station and the dramatic re-enactment of those events at the end of the film, there is nothing terribly remarkable about the events of Oscar Grant’s last day of life – which is what makes the film so remarkable. It’s one day in the life of a man who is trying to get it right and not always succeeding – getting to a point where he can maybe see the faintest glimmering of light at the end of the tunnel just before it all goes to hell. The word important gets used in regard to lots of stuff that really isn’t, but this is an important film.

5b – Her (Warner Bros.)

How better to examine the nature of love and relationships than by have one of involved parties be the sentient operating system of a man’s computer/cell phone…? Spike Jonez specializes in films that are not just unique, but thoughtful and thought-provoking. If Max Headroom was twenty minutes into the future, Jonez’s Her is about fifteen – and it’s a very unusual and rewarding fifteen minutes indeed.

5a – Dallas Buyers Club (Focus Features)

A homophobic redneck contracts AIDS and is given thirty days to live. He finds a way to prolong his life through alternative treatments not sanctioned by the FDA – and sets up a buyers club to sell those treatments to others suffering from HIV/AIDS. Another true story at its core, Dallas Buyers Club is a movie about staring down death and finding one’s humanity.

1d – Frozen (Walt Disney Animation)

Sister princesses (one a girly girl, the other a tomboy), tragedy, comedy and true love all combine with Pixar quality animation and vivid (and very well used) 3D to create the kind of timeless, joyous film that we used to expect from Disney the same way we expect to wake up in the morning.

1c – Gravity (Warner Brothers)

A boldly beautiful science fiction film about an accident in space and a woman’s decision to survive even though she has no earthly reason to want to. Innovative, counter-intuitive and captivating. Watching in anything less than IMAX 3D is to see only a pale imitation and remember its magnificence.

1b – Nebraska (Paramount Vantage)

A starkly beautiful film about an old man, suffering from dementia, and his quest to collect an imagined million dollars he believes he’s won through a misleading magazine subscriptions mailing; a road picture about a father and son spending quality time together. Nebraska is a plain tale plainly told – and beautiful for just that reason. Plus, Bruce Dern.

1a 12 Years a Slave (Fox Searchlight)

Solomon Northup, a free man and upstanding citizen and family man, is uprooted from his home. Abducted and sold into slavery, he endures twelve years of incredible suffering before being fortunate enough to be returned to his home. If this story wasn’t true, it might have been derided as an unimaginative potboiler/exploitation flick. Instead, it is based on the autobiographical writing of Solomon Northup.

That alone would make it important, but what makes it great is a superb script, an incredible cast and a director who did not shy away from this harrowing undertaking. Its nine Oscar® nominations are earned by its brilliance.

Honorable Mentions:

This Is The End, Trance, Prisoners, In a World…, Now You See Me, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Philomena, Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 3, Man of Steel

Biggest Disappointment:

August: Osage County – an incredible cast (All-Star doesn’t even begin to describe it); adapted from a critically acclaimed play – by the playwright! How to describe this mess… ‘Mumble, grumble, whine.’ HEY! I’M ACTING OVER HERE!’ ‘Whine, mumble, grumble.’ ‘STILL ACTING OVER HERE!!!’

Such a waste…

Bottom Feeders:

A Good Day To Die Hard (please let this be the last Die Hard movie!), Paranoid (Pot meet boiler), The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (all the key events; none of the connective tissue), Getaway (no sense, pretty car), Movie 43 (words fail me… F-), The Hangover III (why?), The Counselor (Rude, crude, and worst of all, lame), The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (not at all magical).