Tag Archives: gravity

Top Ten Films of 2013

The delay in me typing this up comes from the fact that there are still a few major films from 2013 that I have yet to see – American HustleHerInside Llewyn Davis, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Wolf of Wall Street (though I’m thinking I won’t see the latter due to excessive sexual content). That being said, I wanted to go ahead and tackle what I have seen before too much of 2014 passes, so just know that, if I see these films and find them worthy of this list, I will update it and let you all know.

2013 was a pretty great year for me. I saw more films than ever before, largely due to my involvement in The MovieByte Podcast with my friend TJ. If I totaled everything correctly, I saw 40 new films this year in theaters, so this list is drawing from a pretty wide selection.

An important note: this is a list of favorite films, which may conflict with my ratings. My ratings are usually based on a combination of both quality and enjoyment, whereas this list will mostly be based on enjoyment with quality mixed in just a bit. Click on the titles to see my reviews for each film. With that said, let’s get started with number 10:

thor the dark world

Honorable Mention – Thor: The Dark World

After the mediocre first Thor film, I was hoping for a much better second film, which we thankfully got in Thor: The Dark World. Chris Hemsworth is an excellent Thor, made better by the fact that we’re not establishing an origin anymore. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki continues to impress as well, this time as an ally, bringing an interesting twist to the character and allowing for a fun and occasionally potent brother-to-brother relationship. Brian Tyler’s score is just as fun as the movie itself, and Christopher Eccleston’s villain Malekith is appropriately menacing, if a bit vague in intention.

frozen

10. Frozen

I love Disney films, especially musical ones, because they remind me of my childhood, when The Lion KingBeauty and the Beast (my review), and Aladdin were supreme. Frozen reminds me of those 1990s Disney movies, but this time with a nice twist at the end – which I won’t spoil for you. The voice cast is incredible here, namely Kristen Bell as Anna and Josh Gad as Olaf the Snowman, with Idina Menzel’s “Let It Go” set to be a surefire nominee for Best Original Song at this year’s Academy Awards – and, I’ll call it now, it’ll win too. The animation is beautiful, the story is touching, and you’ll walk out whistling the songs, wanting to watch it again and again.

12-years-a-slave

9. 12 Years a Slave

This film is difficult to rank because, while it’s certainly a 5-star film, it’s also difficult to watch. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Solomon Northup, a free black man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery for twelve long years. The film covers his incredibly painful time spent on a plantation in Louisiana, where he meets good people, bad people, and fellow slaves who are also struggling for their lives. Director Steve McQueen doesn’t shy away from the harsh truths of slavery and how brutal the slave owners often were, making this film exceptionally powerful and a must-watch – if you can stomach it.

Enders-Game

8. Ender’s Game

I read Orson Scott Card’s classic book in anticipation of this film, so it was fresh on my mind when I walked into the theater. As expected, the book is much better and much of the content in the film is watered down, but that doesn’t stop the film from being pretty excellent on its own. For the most part, it keeps the themes of morality and unnecessary violence intact, and Asa Butterfield as the eponymous Ender does a fantastic job of capturing the character, from his calm control in stressful situations to his intense emotional outbursts upon the realizations of what has happened to him. The visuals in this movie are gorgeous, with scenes from the book, such as the armies in the Battle Room, flying right off the page in a great way.

book-thief

7. The Book Thief

I also read Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief before seeing the film based on it, and many of my criticisms are the same as for Ender’s Game in regards to the watering down of content and such, but that doesn’t stop this film from being an emotional punch to the gut. Sophie Nélisse is outstanding as Liesel Meminger, as are her parents, Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson. The period setting of the film is well-done, and John Williams delivers as intimate and beautiful a score as ever. Bring a box of tissues for this one…maybe two.

Tom Hanks

6. Captain Phillips

In this film, Tom Hanks has the best performance of his life…for, what, the fifth time now? Man, he continues to prove that he’s one of the best actors out there. Captain Phillips tells the true story of how Somalian pirates attacked the Maersk Alabama but were thwarted by Captain Richard Phillips, who not only protected everyone on board with his actions but also offered himself as hostage to continue that protection. Barkhad Abdi plays the lead pirate, who isn’t portrayed as a bad guy but rather as a guy forced to do bad things due to unfortunate social circumstances. There isn’t a bad guy here, not really – at least, that’s not how the film portrays the pirates – but there is simply reality and suspense that rises from it. The long run-time never feels too long as you are caught up in the action from start to finish, and if Tom Hanks doesn’t win the Academy Award for Best Actor, it’ll only be because he lost it to Chiwetel Ejiofor.

SAVING MR. BANKS

5. Saving Mr. Banks

Emma Thompson shines in this historical film about the making of the 1964 Disney film, Mary Poppins, based on the book series by P. L. Travers. Thompson’s portrayal of the stubborn author is both quirky and humorous, but it’s also heartbreaking in her remembrance of moments in her childhood that inspired her books. Colin Farrell plays her father in these flashbacks, juxtaposing a happy-go-lucky father with a down-on-his-luck drunkard, giving us insight into Mary Poppins and the Banks family that I was not previously familiar with. Tom Hanks plays an admirable Walt Disney, even if his performance doesn’t convince me enough that I am watching Walt himself rather than Hanks playing him. Still, the charm of the movie as a whole as well as Thompson’s performance knock this film out of the park. (You should probably bring tissues to this one as well.)

oblivionstarringtomcruise

4. Oblivion

I had a self-imposed boycott on Tom Cruise’s films for quite a long time, but since lifting it for 2011’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (my review) he has quickly become one of my favorite actors. His performance here is great, as is Andrea Riseborough’s performance as his partner, but it’s the themes and questions raised by the film that bring Oblivion so far to the top of my list. Themes of asking questions, seeking answers, and the thirst for knowledge vs. the fear of knowledge are brought to the forefront, and, for some reason, it really resonated with me. The script is smart, Tom Cruise is as great as ever, and the score by M83 is energetic and fun, in the same vein as Daft Punk’s score for TRON: Legacy (my review), which was directed by the same man, Joseph Kosinski. This film not only shows off Tom Cruise’s continuing capabilities as an action star, but his talents as a dramatic actor as well.

the hunger games catching fire

3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

As far as book-to-film adaptations go, 2012’s The Hunger Games (my review) was one of the best I’d seen, but it still had problems. Director Gary Ross’ replacement by Francis Lawrence for the second film seemed worrying at first, but it seemed to pay off. Not only is Catching Fire a better film than the first one, but it’s also a better adaptation of its book counterpart, which is hard to believe. In fact, if I may be so bold, I think that I enjoyed the film more than the book, at least as far as the opening scenes involving the Victory Tour go, which I know is probably blasphemy. Jennifer Lawrence is surely one of the best actresses out there today as evidenced by her continued terrific performance as Katniss Everdeen. The stakes of this film are higher than in the first, and the character development is even better than the already-good character development of the first film. The shaky-cam is gone in favor of better choreographed action scenes, and, in fact, nearly every aspect of the first film is improved upon this time around. This is an excellent film whether you’ve read the books or not.

gravity

2. Gravity

If you didn’t catch this film in theaters, I’m sorry. You missed out. Maybe they’ll bring it back for a few extra showings before the Academy Awards, in which case you should buy a ticket as soon as they’re available. Though this film is great all-around, from the performance of Sandra Bullock to the music by Steven Price to the brilliant visuals of space, the real thrill comes from the thrill of total immersion. You seem to experience everything that Bullock’s character experiences, from spinning around in the vacuum of space to the rush of being trapped in a shower of incoming deadly space debris. The theater experience makes an already-great film even better by involving the audience fully in the action and atmosphere – or lack thereof – of space.

The Way Way Back

1. The Way, Way Back

I love, love, love this film. Love it. I caught an early screening about a month before it reached theaters and subsequently paid to see it twice more. I purchased it on Blu-Ray the day it became available and have watched it three times more since then, and I have yet to tire of it. The Way, Way Back is a coming-of-age film about Duncan, played by Liam James, who is the most perfectly, believably awkward person I’ve ever seen onscreen, which is exactly how his character should be. The growth of his character throughout the film is equally fun and touching, contrasted by Steve Carell’s portrayal of Duncan’s awful stepfather, a role refreshingly atypical of Carell’s usual fare. However, the standout performance in this film is that of Sam Rockwell as Owen, a local waterpark owner who befriends Duncan and helps him to make his summer one of the best of his life. Rockwell brings many laugh-out-loud moments, but he also brings the most poignant moments of the film. The moral is great, and the ride is a great one. I don’t think I could possibly over-recommend this movie.

Well, there you have it. Do you agree or disagree with my list? What were your favorite films of 2013? Sound off in the comments – I’d love to hear your opinions.

Here’s to 2014 – another great year for movies!

-Chad


Gravity (2013)

gravity

I generally try to not over-hype films in my head before seeing them for fear of my expectations not being met. That being said, Gravity is a film that was hard to not over-hype…from the very earliest of screenings, critics have been raving about how it’s “the space film they always wanted” or “the best space movie ever,” etc. Despite the fact that I generally try to avoid critic reviews before seeing films so as not to color my own opinion one way or the other, I couldn’t help but see how much people were liking this movie, so the bar was high. And, my goodness, even that bar was far too low for a film like this.

Gravity begins calmly enough; Lieutenant Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is experimenting with a prototype jetpack during his final expedition before retiring, and Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is making repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope on her first space shuttle mission. However, disaster soon strikes when speeding space debris appears, damaging the space shuttle and causing the astronauts to lose communication with Mission Control, rendering the pair completely alone. Tension is high as they navigate across space, fighting for survival against impossible odds.

The only two actors appearing in the film (aside from voices) are Clooney and Bullock, who are both fantastic. Clooney’s character carries the same sort of assured confidence that is always attributed to him, but it doesn’t feel canned or overly familiar; in fact, it’s a comfort in the film, as his character is the voice of reason and determination in a desperate situation. Bullock’s performance is what truly carries the film, though, with her inspiring growth from damsel in distress to her struggle in finding hope to her resolve to survive. It’s an intimate role in that it is often literally her, space, and the audience alone together, so we spend a lot of time in her head seeing what she sees and feeling what she feels.

Speaking of seeing what she sees, the cinematography is often used as a tool to change audience perspective. In one scene, the camera shifts from us looking at Dr. Stone in empty space, alone, with us watching her panic as she spins out of control, to inside her helmet, watching the world and the destruction of the space shuttle come in and out of focus as we spin with her. This perspective shift makes an intimate performance even more intimate because we literally experience the same thing that she does. The camera work is also incredibly beautiful; as Kowalski and Stone venture across space together, we are treated to wide open shots that show their relative insignificance when contrasted with the enormity of Earth and the space that engulfs it. Our perspective is shifted again as we see shots of the two of them against the backdrop of Earth during times of hopefulness, but we see them with nothing but black emptiness in the background when all hope seems to be lost. It’s an incredible technique that is as awe-inspiring as it is terrifying. Despite the wide-openness of the setting, the great irony of the film is that you often feel claustrophobic; being confined alone to a suit in the middle of an oxygen-less emptiness is a scary feeling.

I purchased the film’s score, composed by Steven Price, a couple of weeks before the film was in theaters. From the very first track, I was stunned by how well the music is able to embody and facilitate the claustrophobia of the film. Much of the score is more atmospheric than musical, relying on random electronic beeps (as if from warning beeps from the astronauts’ equipment) and deafening “whirrs” to evoke feelings of disaster or extreme peril. Perhaps even more incredible are the moments in the film that don’t use music at all, perhaps bringing the claustrophobia to even greater heights. Obviously, there is no sound in space, so these moments are especially profound and, in a way, sobering. There are times of beauty, though, heard in the film’s rare instances of peace, such as in the track “Airlock,” that hint at the final track on the soundtrack, “Gravity,” which is heard in the final moments of the film. It’s a hugely satisfying moment that I don’t want to spoil for you here…just enjoy it when you see the film for yourself.

It has been quite a while since I’ve been as blown away by a film as I am by Gravity. It is one of those rare films that manages to both awe and inspire its audience in terms of story, characterization, and visuals, and it does so without ever becoming boring. I saw the movie in IMAX 3D, which I would highly recommend; the 3D is utilized well, actually engrossing you further into the film by making you a part of the action on-screen. Cuarón delivers on every level here…Gravity is a masterpiece.

Oscar season is upon us, my friends.

-Chad

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language