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 Hustle, Her, Inside 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:
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.
I love Disney films, especially musical ones, because they remind me of my childhood, when The Lion King, Beauty 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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I believe I’ve said it before, but, just in case I haven’t – historical films don’t have to be historically accurate to be good films. Ideally, yes, they would get every detail correct, but films are designed to entertain and to inform. Whether the events as shown in Captain Phillips accurately line up with the real-life event or not, it is pretty darn great film.
Tom Hanks plays Richard Phillips, captain of the Maersk Alabama container ship, who takes charge when his ship is attacked by Somalian pirates. Making smart tactical decisions that save the life of his crew and sacrificing his safety for the safety of the rest of the people onboard the ship, Phillips stands as a hero who takes a terrible situation and manages to walk away with not only his life, but the lives of the people he is responsible for as well.
Hanks gives the best performance of his life…for, what, the fifth time now? Seriously, he continues to amaze me with his capabilities as an actor. I don’t know about the real-life Richard Phillips, but Hanks’ portrayal is filled with an incredible emotional depth. Through him, we see a compassion for not only his family and his crew, but also for the Somalian pirates who attack the ship. We also see his dedication to the job at hand, his solid resolve, and his desire to put others’ needs ahead of his own. The closing scene of the film, where Hanks’ character sits in shock with the nurse after being rescued from a hostage situation with the pirates, is one of the most emotionally powerful scenes I’ve ever seen.
Barkhad Abdi plays the lead pirate Muse, and he’s pretty excellent as well. The pirates as a whole are equally dedicated to the task at hand. One of my favorite parts about the film is that it never portrays the pirates as bad guys; they are simply young men whose social situations demand that they find a more…creative…means of income. Phillips sees this side of the pirates, which is why he acts so compassionately to them. It also leads to a particularly sobering moment when he says something to the effect of, “surely you must be able to be something aside from fishermen or kidnappers,” to which Muse replies, “maybe in America.” This line highlights how good we have it over here in America, humanizing the pirates and showing that their intentions are not evil from their perspective – they are simply trying to live.
My only slight criticism of this film is the shaky cam work that we have learned to be typical of Paul Greengrass films (cough Bourne Supremacy cough) makes an appearance here, and, though you could argue that it emulates the feeling of being on a boat in choppy water, it never really adds to the film.
There really isn’t a whole lot to say about this film aside from praising Hanks’ performance. The only thing that might stop him from winning the Academy Award for Best Actor is Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance as Solomon Northup in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave. The script here is smart, Hanks’ performance is top-notch, and the long run time never feels overbearing due to the suspenseful engagement of the film from the very beginning. Captain Phillips is one of the best biopics I’ve ever seen.
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG-13 – for sustained intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images, and for substance use
1 Comment | tags: 12 years a slave, Academy Award, barkhad abdi, best actor, captain phillips, chiwetel ejiofor, maersk alabama, Oscars, paul greengrass, pirates, richard phillips, Somalia, somalian pirates, steve mcqueen, The Bourne Supremacy, tom hanks | posted in 4.5, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies
It seems that biographical films are often more dramatic and heavy than they are light-hearted and fun, and even rarer are they both at the same time, but Saving Mr. Banks manages to pull it off quite well without seeming forced or bipolar.
Saving Mr. Banks is the true story of the making of the Disney film Mary Poppins and the reluctance of the author of the books it is based on, P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson), to relinquish the film rights to her characters. When she visits Los Angeles to meet with the film’s creative team and with Walt Disney himself (Tom Hanks), heads clash as the fight to keep the heart of her story and her characters become flashbacks for Travers, revealing the events of her childhood that inspired her beloved Mary Poppins.
The obvious star of this movie is Emma Thompson as the stubborn P. L. Travers, whose money is disappearing and desperately needs for this film to be made in order to help her out financially. Unfortunately, she refuses even the slightest deviations from the way she had the story and characters composed in her head, and Thompson’s portrayal does a fantastic job of making the character both frustrating and, in the right moments, comedic. The character’s quirky way of dealing with various people and circumstances, such as the surprise of the endless Disney stuffed animals waiting for her in her hotel room, are often hysterical, but her moments of grief in response to various flashbacks to her father (Colin Farrell) are even more heartbreaking…in a good way. Farrell’s performance is the other highlight of the film, with his role as her father, Travers Goff, bringing even more joy and more heartbreak. There is a juxtaposition of a happy-go-lucky father with a down-on-his-luck drunk within the character, which Farrell does an outstanding job of portraying.
Tom Hanks does a pretty good job as well, but I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching Tom Hanks pretending to be Walt Disney rather than simply watching Walt Disney himself, probably through no fault of his own. I was impressed by the tiny details he got right, such as the tell-tale cough that hinted at the lung cancer that would lead to his death less than three years after the premiere of the film in 1964, but the fact that it was Hanks playing Disney just couldn’t get out of my head. Perhaps this is because he doesn’t look much like Disney, whose face I’m quite familiar with, which, as I said, isn’t his fault. Really, this is a minor complaint that doesn’t detract from the film – just a slight disappointment. Another petty disappointment was with the portrayal of the legendary Sherman Brothers, Richard (Jason Schwartzman) and Robert (B. J. Novak), the duo responsible for some of the most classic Disney songs of all-time, including but not limited to “it’s a small world (after all),” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (which I proudly just typed correctly without help), and “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.” Aside from the fact that I thought that they could have hired better singers, I think part of my slight disdain for B. J. Novak, whose character in NBC’s The Office television series I dislike quite a bit. (Told you it was petty.) Again, though, this doesn’t really make me enjoy the film any less because, aside from the excellent performances of Thompson and Ferrell, we are treated with great performances from Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, and Annie Rose Buckley, who plays P. L. Travers as a child in the flashbacks.
I purchased the soundtrack for this film a couple of weeks before I was able to see it in theaters, and I must admit that I was initially pretty unimpressed. Sure, it sounds pretty, but it’s a Thomas Newman score that sounds like a typical Thomas Newman score, in the same vein as his scores for Finding Nemo and The Help (my review). However, I reserved judgment as best I could until I had heard the music in the context of the film, and, thankfully, it works much better as a supplement to the film, which is what really matters. (As a brief side-note, the Deluxe Edition of this soundtrack is worth the buy as it includes original demo recordings of the Sherman Brothers singing songs they composed for Mary Poppins, as well as recordings by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.)
I can’t speak to the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of the film, but, as I’ve said before, I don’t think it matters too much. A film is meant to entertain or inform, and Saving Mr. Banks does both, whether it gets all the facts correct or not. It will have you laughing and crying from the very start of the film, largely thanks to Emma Thompson’s incredible performance. It’s certainly Oscar-worthy, but whether or not she will win the Best Actress award remains to be seen. Either way, this movie is worth your money to see before it leaves theaters.
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG-13 – for thematic elements including some unsettling images
1 Comment | tags: annie rose buckley, b. j. novak, bj novak, bradley whitford, colin farrell, dick van dyke, Disney, emma thompson, finding nemo, it's a small world after all, jason schwartzman, Julie Andrews, los angeles, Mary Poppins, p. l. travers, paul giamatti, richard sherman, robert sherman, saving mr. banks, sherman bros., sherman brothers, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, The Help, there's a great big beautiful tomorrow, Thomas Newman, tom hanks, travers goff, walt disney, walt disney studios | posted in 4.5, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies, Music, Scores
Life of Pi is one of those movies that caught me off-guard; I had never read the book, and, while I had seen a trailer or two before other films I’ve seen this year, the buzz on it seemed pretty minimal. As a result, when it was released to critical acclaim nearly across the board, it sparked my interest. I debated whether or not I should read the original book by Yann Martel first, but I ended up going to see the film anyway, and…wow.
I absolutely loved the way that the story was told in the context of the film: an author visits the home of an adult Piscine Molitor Patel, Pi for short, who begins to tell him a story from his teenage years, a tale that he claims “will make you believe in God.” The first half of this film is presented as a flashback, with the story returning to the perspective of the older Pi every now and again, but the flashback eventually becomes continuous to the end of the film. To me, it almost felt like someone was reading me a book that I was simultaneously watching unfold in front of me, much like the 1987 film The Princess Bride, which was also based on a book. This method of storytelling was compelling and had me wanting more; I enjoyed both the flashbacks and the present-day scenes, but I was constantly thirsting for more information.
The story itself is a sort of combination between Robert Zemeckis’ 2000 film Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks, and the Book of Job from the Hebrew Bible. Much like Job, Pi has everything taken away from him as a test of faith, and, like Tom Hanks’ character in Cast Away, he is stranded without any human companion and must learn to survive in less-than-ideal conditions. Throughout the film, Pi talks about his faith in God despite all that has happened to him, and he remains thankful no matter what. It is a testament to his faith that Pi doesn’t become atheist due to all of his struggles, and it made me look inward at my own faith in God…would I remain this loyal to Him in that kind of hardship?
Life of Pi, in addition to having strong roots in religion, is also a visual treat. This is the best use of 3D I have seen since James Cameron’s Avatar was released back in 2009; in fact, this is one of the few films that I would actually recommend seeing in the 3D format. This is a rare instance of 3D absorbing the viewer into the world of the film, allowing us to experience what Pi is experiencing, without becoming a gimmick like so many 3D films fall victim to. With a wonderful performance from first-time film actor Suraj Sharma to go along with the fantastic script and beautiful landscapes presented in the film, Life of Pi is another film worth seeing on the big screen.
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG – for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril
5 Comments | tags: 3D, Avatar, bible, book of job, cast away, faith, God, hebrew, hebrew bible, james cameron, job, life of pi, pi, piscine molitor, piscine molitor pate, Robert Zemeckis, suraj sharma, the princess bride, tom hanks, yann martel | posted in 4.5, Books, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies