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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


Frozen (2013)

frozen

I was born and grew up in the 1990s, which means that I was a child during the time period when Disney produced its most successful animated musicals, often referred to as the “Disney Renaissance” and featuring such renowned films as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast (my review), Aladdin, and The Lion King. While Disney has released a few more animated musicals over the years, the quality has generally not been up to the same standards as those set in the 1990s (though I’m certainly partial to their 2010 offering, Tangled – my review), but with Frozen they finally hark back to those animated films that I grew up with, making it quite an enjoyable experience.

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of The Snow QueenFrozen tells the tale of Elsa, princess of Arendelle, and her younger sister Anna. Elsa was born with the power to control and create snow and ice, and an accident as children almost kills Anna. To protect Elsa and others from her powers, their parents (the king and queen) consult with magical trolls who remove Anna’s memories of Elsa’s powers and subsequently lock themselves away in their castle, with Elsa distancing herself from Anna to protect her. The king and queen are killed ten years later in a storm at sea, and, three years after, the now-21-year-old Elsa (Idina Menzel) must attend the coronation that will make her queen. When things go wrong and her powers are revealed to the kingdom and to Anna (Kristen Bell), Elsa flees Arendelle, leaving it trapped in an eternal winter…in the middle of the summer. Anna seeks Elsa out to get her to thaw out the kingdom, meeting friends Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer pal Sven, and a talking snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad).

The voice cast in this film is excellent across the board. Idina Menzel brings out the conflicted nature of Elsa nicely, and, as expected, her singing voice (especially in the track “Let It Go”) is outstanding. Kristen Bell also provides an admirable performance as Anna, bringing quite a bit of variety to the character both in terms of quirkiness and seriousness, and her singing voice also sounds great…I didn’t even know Kristen Bell could sing! A different kind of performance comes from Josh Gad as Olaf the snowman; though the trailers made the character seem goofy in a bad way, I really enjoyed his presence in the film, and most of his lines left me laughing. I liked Jonathan Groff’s Kristoff and his relationship with his friend Sven the reindeer as well.

(mild spoilers)

The film explores a few mature themes, which I really appreciated. The main one was the idea of too much control/containment leading to just the opposite, as evidenced by Elsa’s departure from Arendelle and solo “Let It Go,” in which she talks about letting loose and seeing what she’s capable of, a luxury not afforded to her while she kept her powers secret from the world. In that song as well, it’s suggested that her “kingdom of isolation” (of which “[she’s] the queen”) allows her to drop the good girl act that has been forced on her for so long, toying with the idea of her having a bit of evil in her, which actually begins to show just a bit in the film. It’s deep stuff! Another powerful theme is the idea of love, but, in what is sure to be a rarity in Disney films, love that is not necessarily of the romantic variety. No, the focus here is love between family, or, more specifically, between siblings, and its this love that is the focus during the climax of the film. It’s a twist on the usual Disney formula, though there’s certainly a bit of romantic love to be seen as well.

I did have just a couple of issues with this film, the first being with the character of The Duke of Weselton, voiced by Alan Tudyk. We know that his ultimate goal is to exploit the kingdom for profit – he tells us so with his very first line – but that idea is dropped as soon as Elsa’s powers are revealed, at which point his concern becomes to kill Elsa and…do what, exactly? Anna would be successor to the throne, and, if she were to die as well, she has placed Hans, a prince of a neighboring kingdom who Anna falls in love with upon their first meeting, in charge of the kingdom in her absence. So the Duke’s plans of exploitation as stated – again, LITERALLY in his first line – seem to simply be stated for the sake of making him an immediate antagonist. Sure, you could argue that it keeps focus on him in order to set up the twist that comes towards the end of the film, which, yes, sure, I agree with, but I don’t think that having him be an antagonist for the sake of having an obvious antagonist is the best solution. My one other complaint would be that every action by every character seems to be an overreaction, from the removal of Anna’s memories, to the royal family completely locking themselves away from the rest of the kingdom, to Elsa’s leaving the kingdom upon the reveal of her powers, among others. In all of these circumstances, I think that there might have been less severe paths to be taken to combat the situation rather than make everything a HUGE deal like they did.

(end spoilers)

But both of these complaints are altogether really minor when you look at the film as a whole. Frozen accomplishes what it set out to do, which is to provide good, clean family entertainment, and it even manages to ask some good questions and explore familial love better than Disney/Pixar’s 2012 film Brave did (my review). The voice cast is great, the animation is beautiful, and you might even walk out of the theater with some good music stuck in your head.

-Chad

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG – for some action and mild rude humor

P.S. – I should briefly mention the animated short that appears before the film, titled Get a Horse. It starts off as a sort of flashback to simpler times, with it first appearing to be a black-and-white cartoon in the style of older Disney cartoons, such as 1928 Mickey Mouse short Steamboat Willie, before incorporating today’s more standard 3D, colorful animation as well, providing a fun back-and-forth between the two animation styles. It’s a fun short film despite a couple of awkward moments (Clarabelle Cow is…strange, to say the least). Not as great as other Disney shorts, but it’s still pretty enjoyable, especially the juxtaposition of the two polar opposites of animation.