Thursday, February 20, 2014

Best of 2013, Part 1: Top 20, Zen Awards

Hey guys, remember last year? That one with the Zack Snyder movie about the flying alien with the cape? Yeah. That year happened. And I know that most of us have already giddily skipped to on to 2014, visions of Endless Love and The Lego Movie dancing in our heads. And that's ok, but I'm just not there yet. Maybe it's a by-product of setting your movie calendar by the Oscars (which happen next weekend), but for me, the 2013 film year is still going strong. Which is basically how I'm going to justify my not posting any kind of "best of" list until near the end of February. But hey, I've been busy, and have also been waiting for a couple films to open/come out on DVD so I could catch them before trying to make this list. Well that failed, at any rate (sorry, Blue is the Warmest Color and The Wind Rises--if you wanted the dubious internet honor of being on my blog, you shouldn't have waited until next weekend to find your way to my face).

So here we go. Now, I'm just going to start off by enthusiastically slapping the decaying remains of a long-dead horse and saying that 2013 was an utterly ridiculous year for movies (in a good way). There are things that could have easily taken the #1 spot in other years that didn't make it into my top 10. And the warm feels that I've got for my top 10 are just totally, over-the-top preposterous. Movie years like this make me want to start dancing and never stop (except to watch movies, because seriously, who dances in a movie theater). I'm going to try for a top 20, but even that is going to exclude some movies that I really wish I could talk about more. So if you want to talk about any movie, ever, just say the word and I will drown you in a never-ending torrent of opinion. The Internet, folks--that's what it's here for. If you stick around past the top 20, you'll get my annual silly awards--just as much fun, and a whole lot less work than trying to read me waxing poetic about the glowing devil penises in Post Tenebras Lux. So I know the top 20 is work, but stick around until the end and hopefully you'll find a few giggles.

Check it out after the jump!

In interest of transparency, here's an alphabetical list of everything I've seen this year:

12 Years a Slave, 20 Feet from Stardom, The Act of Killing, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, All is Lost, American Hustle, August: Osage County, Bad Grandpa, Beautiful Creatures, Before Midnight, The Bling Ring, Blue Jasmine, The Book Thief, Bridegroom, The Butler, Captain Phillips, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, The Conjuring, The Croods, Dallas Buyers Club, Despicable Me 2, Dirty Wars, Don Jon, Elysium, Ender’s Game, Enough Said, Evil Dead, Frances Ha, Frozen, Fruitvale Station, The Grandmaster, Gravity, The Great Gatsby, The Heat, Her, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Hunt, I’m So Excited, In the House, Inside Llewyn Davis, Iron Man Three, Leviathan, The Lone Ranger, Lone Survivor, Man of Steel, Monsters University, Much Ado About Nothing, Mud, Nebraska, Oblivion, One Direction: This is Us, Out in the Dark, Oz the Great and Powerful, Pacific Rim, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, Philomena, The Place Beyond the Pines, Post Tenebras Lux, Prince Avalanche, Prisoners, Rush, Short Term 12, Spring Breakers, The Square, Stoker, Star Trek Into Darkness, Stories We Tell, This is the End, Thor: The Dark World, To the Wonder, Trance, Upstream Color, Warm Bodies, White House Down, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Wolverine, World War Z, The World’s End, Yossi

So if I don't include something in the slew of lists to come, check to see if I actually saw it. Chances are I didn't (or maybe I did, and just thought it was awful). As usual, I haven't seen most of the notable films with subtitles, as well as most of the really small releases--unfortunately, the majority of those films just aren't interested in opening in this part of the country. So, in addition to the aforementioned Blue is the Warmest Color and The Wind Rises, my apologies to Stranger by the Lake, A Touch of Sin, The Missing Picture, The Broken Circle Breakdown, The Great Beauty, Omar, At Berkeley, etc.

Honorable Mentions: Because I just can't limit myself to 20, here is where I give my unofficial kudos to tricky mix of comedy, romance, and brain-eating in Warm Bodies, the gorgeous, heart-bursting excess of The Great Gatsby, and the cold-blooded passion of Stoker.

The Best Films of 2013
20. Lone Survivor (dir. Peter Berg)
I surprised myself by including this one, and I'm certainly not saying that the film doesn't suffer from its own jingoistic excesses, but Berg's gripping, tactile roller-coaster ode to bodily torment and the military is an undeniably intense experience, bolstered by a surprising gut-punch of a finale.

19. Frozen (dir. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee)
It's the first Disney movie written and co-directed by a woman, and it shows. What a gorgeous, improbable balancing act which whole-heartedly rejects Disney's 'someday my prince will come' message while still embracing the importance of love from any source. And the songs are killer, too.

18. American Hustle (dir. David O. Russell)
Perhaps it's more quotable than it is accomplished, but who cares when you're having this fun? I'm forever and always going to call my microwave a science oven from now on. Hustle is a caper that fires on all cylinders, bolstered by spectacular pyrotechnics from its leading ladies, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, as well as Bradley Cooper's impeccable taste in pink hair-curlers.

17. Short Term 12 (dir. Destin Cretton)
Normally, 'manipulative' is a word I'd negatively associate with a movie, but Short Term 12 earns its manipulation with a simple, dogged core of emotional honesty. This story of a social worker in a short-term home for foster kids unflinchingly peels back preconceptions of stories about wounded kids, and refuses to patronize both its subjects and its audience.

16. The Square (dir. Jehane Noujaim)
In such a stellar year for documentaries, this account of the events surrounding Tahrir Square in Cairo in 2011 must necessarily pale slightly in comparison to more formally adventurous work, but The Square is still a hugely affecting, effortlessly competent piece of journalistic film-making. Stunning on-the ground footage offers a first-person perspective into the inner workings of a revolution--sometimes petty, sometimes mundane, but always passionate--an empowering scream of agency. This film, like its subjects, is here, and it's not going to go anywhere until you listen to it.

15. Prince Avalanche (dir. David Gordon Green)
It is so unbelievably refreshing to see David Gordon Green leave the half-baked silliness of Your Highness and The Sitter and return to his George Washington/All the Real Girls/Undertow roots. This deceptively simple yarn about two vastly different men repainting an isolated highway in a fire-ravaged American south discovers unexpected transcendence in the lives of its Huck and Jim pairing. Touches of the surreal (that disappearing woman among the ruins, the omnipotent truck driver) enhance a world where it seems that anything can happen, but nothing ever does.

14. In the House (dir. Francois Ozon)

I'm not sure exactly how to nail this one down. It could be described as a soapy relationship drama mixed with a sex farce about a French teacher who encourages his student to spy on a classmate in order to improve his writing. Or maybe it's a class satire on the love-hate relationship we all have with the well-to-dos of society. Or maybe it's a a two-handed character study that examines what both talent and the lack thereof do to a person. However you want to describe it, it's always light on its feet, well-crafted, constantly surprising, and a total blast.

13. Blue Jasmine (dir. Woody Allen)

Like his films themselves, Woody Allen's characters have moved away from New York, and have gone a little bit insane with the transition. Blue Jasmine is the Woody Allen film we need right now--using the slow, inevitable downward spiral of the wife of a convicted Madoff-esque banker to show us the consequences of a life of privilege which comes at the expense of everyone else. Anchored by Cate Blanchett, playing the titular Jasmine like a tenuous, willfully ignorant dance over hot coals, Blue Jasmine manages to be timely, hilarious, and more than a little bit sad.

12. Upstream Color (dir. Shane Carruth)

Speaking of films I've no idea how to describe...I'm just going to drop the plot description on you kids: mysterious figures use plants to control other people's minds, briefly taking over their lives, and then harvesting parasites from the controlled body, implanting those parasites in pigs, and then letting everyone go back to their life. This movie is nuts. The plot description makes it sound like some kind of wacky sci-fi, but in reality, Upstream Color is a delicate little snapshot of two people trying to make sense of lives they can't remember. Two victims find each other and learn to find a little bit of solace in each other's pain. And I haven't even mentioned the fact that this film's style is just unbelievably unique--time has meaning, but it doesn't really. Moments and years blend together to create an endlessly fluid slipstream of fleeting glances.

11. 12 Years a Slave (dir. Steve McQueen)

It's a testament to the strength of this film year that something as towering and visceral as 12 Years a Slave doesn't even make the top 10. While I have to admit that I prefer McQueen when he gives in to his most defiantly inscrutable impulses (like his first film, Hunger), 12 Years a Slave is nevertheless a textured, grueling experience which takes McQueen's fascination with bodily punishment to its most emotional extreme. What's most impressive, however, is not the inhumanity on display (although we're treated to plenty of that), but the humanity constantly lurking around the edges. I'm instantly reminded of Lupita Nyong'o's field slave playing with her home-made dolls, or Chiwetel Ejiofor burning a desperately acquired piece of paper in hopes of surviving for one more day. To parrot one of the main characters lines, 12 Years a Slave isn't interested in mere survival. It wants to live, and its pushing,  vengeful desire to do so spills out onto the frame like a tidal wave.

Drum roll, please! Now's where we get serious (although really, the last 5 especially could have made top 10 [or top 5 even] in just about any other year).

10. Spring Breakers (dir. Harmony Korine)

Chalk this one up as my biggest surprise of the year. I never expected a neon-colored nightmare about partying in Florida starring former Disney stars to be so hallucinatory and poetic. Spring Breakers is less a movie than it is a tone-poem: dialogue repeats endlessly over seemingly unconnected shots of parties and sunsets ad nauseam, until all of the decadence and rebellion erupts into one glorious fireball of slow-motion bloodshed. I'm not sure I've ever seen a movie quite like this one, and I'm not sure I ever do again. Whether it's dancing in pink ski-masks with automatic weapons to Britney Spears, or James Franco gleefully giving a blowjob to a loaded pistol, anyone or anything trying to mimic something as bizarre and bonkers as Spring Breakers would be an exercise in futility.

9. Stories We Tell (dir. Sarah Polley)

2013 wasn't just a great year for documentaries--it was a great year for documentaries that experimented with what that label even means. Sarah Polley's profoundly personal film chronicles her own memories of her late mother, as interpreted and re-interpreted through the lives of people she loves. What results is an endlessly connected tapestry of words, thoughts, and misplaced emotions which fold back on themselves again and again. With this film, Polley examines notions of truth and storytelling--whether it's even physically possible to be honest while remembering something, or if the concept of memory is itself nothing more than a storytelling device. Bold, beautiful film-making on display here, from someone courageous enough to use herself and her own family's hidden skeletons to cast a critical eye on the way that personal stories and mythologies are founded on the lies we have to tell ourselves to be able to wake up in the morning.

8. The Bling Ring (dir. Sofia Coppola)

I am admittedly an unapologetic Sofia Coppola fan-girl, but with The Bling Ring, everyone's favorite 2nd-generation Coppola (sorry, Nicholas Cage) expands artistically in an entirely new direction. Strangely, that direction is one of anthropological cyncism. Coppola sees her subjects--fame-obsessed teenagers driven to crime through a combination of boredom and attention-seeking--and she might not endorse their actions, but she resigns herself to forcing the camera (and by extension, the audience) to take in every detail. This plays out in a series of extended, impressively dispassionate takes: the scene where we watch the kids from a distance, crawling through a house like giddy little ants, is particularly memorable. The Bling Ring is unafraid to embrace how shallow its subjects are, accepting their smug stupidity while gently peeling back the exterior, revealing the core of desperate placelessness that lies underneath.

7. All is Lost (dir. J.C. Chandor)

Here's an exercise in restraint if ever there was one. All is Lost never attempts to give any context to its plot: a shipping container rips a whole in a man's boat, and he tries to survive. That's it. The main character (who is never named) speaks all of three times in the movie, and one of those times is just him screaming "fuck" at the sky. Chandor's attention to detail is what drags the viewer into the world of the film. Somehow, watching Robert Redford tie knots, fiddle with radios, and trim sails becomes a thorougly engrossing experience. Ultimately, the film is about the depth of the human experience, and the possibility of maintaining hope with no apparent motivation to do so. Expressing such complete and complex thoughts through minimalist storytelling and almost abstract camera-work is something of a miracle.

6. Leviathan (dir. Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel)

I'll be upfront: I probably can't recommend this movie to most of the people who will read this. Although All is Lost is certainly minimalist and somewhat abstract, it looks as expressive and obvious as a daytime soap opera compared to this. Filmed entirely on GoPro cameras, this wordless, plotless documentary spends its running time turning a seemingly mundane fishing boat into a surreal, impressionistic realization of a blood-smeared hellscape. Because of the size and durability of the cameras it uses, Leviathan shows us images that were physically impossible to show before. We go under the boat, into fishing nets, and roll in the surf with the corpses left in the boat's wake. An opaque, sometimes infuriating, but always fascinating piece of work that once again questions how we think of documentaries, and the ways in which the form can be stretched.

5. Frances Ha (dir. Noah Baumbach)

After all of those terribly serious films, it's fun to break the pattern with a film as downright joyful as this one. A sumptuous black and white comedy which pays homage to Woody Allen's New York City of the 1970s, Frances Ha follows the misadventures of a directionless post-grad trying to convince herself that she can afford to live as an artist. The script, co-written by Baumbach and lead actress Greta Gerwig, bounces effortlessly between absurdist humor and genuine pathos. Frances' drunken, rambling monologue about what she's looking for in life is easily one of the most gorgeous pieces of movie dialogue I've heard in a while (and we'll no doubt talk about it again later), and the film's sense of humor understands me better than I understand myself. I'll never understand why a put-open fiance yelling "so how THE FUCK do you get to Chuggins" makes me giggle like a little girl, but here we are.

4. The Act of Killing (dir. Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn, and Anonymous)

Once again with the documentaries that gleefully attack the boundaries of what documentaries are supposed to do. The premise for this one is downright wacky: in Indonesia, the men who committed a massacre-style ethnic and political cleansing 40 years ago, whoare still in power and celebrated for thier actions, are asked to make a film about their exploits as mass-murderers. What follows is a horrific, surreal film-within-a-film that casually appraises the brutality of the country's history. There's something awfully chilling about watching a man re-enact a murder he once committed for a camera, only to be greeted with applause. What follows is a brutal morality play that examines the casual evil inherent to human nature, showing a man slowly coming to terms with the depths of his own naive depravity. Oppenheimer's film is a difficult film to sit through, but a necessary one--it shows the inherent, seemingly impossible combination of evil, ignorance, and charisma that can lead any human being to commit crimes against humanity.

3. Gravity (dir. Alfonso Cuaron)

I'll be the first to admit that Gravity is hardly the weightiest film on this list (pun somewhat intended) (sorry) (I'm going straight to the special hell), but after all that genocide we need something a little more fun. And Gravity is certainly fun, but in that mind-erasing sense of the word that allows you to laugh after you've been traumatized. For 90 minutes, Gravity is an impossibly taut thrill-ride, diving headlong into suspense from the get-go, and not stopping for air until the very last shot. The quality of film-making on display here is impeccable: Cuaron and cinematography Emmanuel Lubezki continue the experiment they began with Children of Men, pushing long takes as far as they can go to create an entirely immersive cinematic experience. The visuals and sound coalesce into something which suggests a completely new type of movie-going experience. The fact that all of this visual artistry orbits around (I'm so sorry with the puns, someone stop me) a surprisingly story of death and rebirth just makes the film more impressive.

2. Before Midnight (dir. Richard Linklater)

Before Midnight is an interesting exception to this list, in that I fully acknowledge that it probably wouldn't take this spot if I hadn't seen Before Sunrise and Before Sunset previously. But as a fulfillment of fifteen years of promises, Before Midnight continues what is obviously one of the most impressive, important series in all of cinema. Picking up with Jesse and Celine, our erstwhile, chatty heroes, every nine years, the Before series accomplishes something truly extraordinary--the real-time unfolding of a relationship, from first kiss to kids, marriage, and the sneaking suspicion that the romance of the past just might not be enough to hold the weight of an entire life's worth of time. In Before Midnight, we're shot off in an entirely new direction; eschewing the woozy romance of the first two installments, Midnight becomes something of a gritty slice-of-life type ordeal, bravely facing the realities of starting a family, growing older, and having to fight to maintain the emotions which came so easily when you were young. As usual, the script (co-written by the director and the two stars) plays like the literate interior monologue we wish we were articulate enough to have, and the sparing film-making embraces long takes that simultaneously embrace our two protagonists while keeping them at arm's length. It's been a joy watching such fully realized characters blossom over the course of 18 years, and I hope more than anything that we'll be treated to another snapshot of Jesse and Celine in nine years.

1. Inside Llewyn Davis (dir. Joel and Ethan Coen)

This one snuck up on me. I was debating for the longest time who would walk away with the prize--really, I entertained the idea of every one of the top 5 movies taking this spot--but one day I woke up and I realized I'd known it would be Llewyn Davis since the moment I saw it. Like all Coen movies, it's a delicate balance of off-key humor, cynicism, magical realism, and tiny shreds of hope. This film's masterstroke is to center itself around a deliberately unlikeable character. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, Llewyn Davis is both the cause of and the solution to all of his problems, and yet he never seems able to step out of his own way. As a struggling folk singer, Llewyn Davis' dogged dedication to his art (brilliantly portrayed by Oscar Isaac) leads him down seemingly endless roads of humiliation, failure, and heartbreak. After bearing his soul in the one audition he expects to be his big break, he is breezily dismissed--who knew watching someone giving up their dream could be such a palpable, tactile experience? The tragic irony of Llewyn Davis' life is that (as shown in the Bob Dylan cameo at the end) the world he's so desperate to be a part of is about to explode. And yet, even if he had the strength to stick around, we get the impression that he would be a failure anyhow. There are two types of people in the world: one type is people whose dreams come true. Llewyn Davis is the other kind. Watching a man--unlovable and problematic as he is--slowly realize and come to terms with this provided me with the most moving cinematic experience I had all year. And it doesn't hurt that the music is gorgeous, too.

Well, there's that list sorted. I'm pretty thrilled to set a new record for the number of documentaries in the top 20 (4 this year)--due both to the fact that I get to see more documentaries, and that we're living in something of a golden age for the medium. Also thrilled about how many women-helmed pictures are featured (6, counting co-directors). Although the representation of women among directors is still laughably bad, this year can't help but feel like an improvement.

(In case you're inspired to watch any of these, The Square, Prince Avalanche, In the House, Upstream Color, Frances Ha, and The Act of Killing are all on Netflix instant, and everything else except Lone Survivor, American Hustle, Gravity, and Inside Llewyn Davis are currently available on DVD.)

Alright, next up: the Zen Awards. A bad title, I know, but tradition, dammit. Funny story: I'm pretty sure justifying my title with tradition, dammit is something of a tradition (dammit) of itself by now. I've probably been doing this too long. Prepare yourself for some oncoming silliness!

Best Scenes of the Year

10. Let it Go-Frozen
Since I've got a long history as a theater geek, naturally I was going to respond to a power ballad written by the writer of Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon, and sung by the star of Wicked and RENT. But the gorgeous animation and the here-I-am chutzpah of the whole enterprise certainly don't hurt.

9. Bathroom Confrontation-American Hustle
Two great actresses at their best, going head to head as two complicated, flawed, fabulous women. Sparks inevitably fly, and we're all better for it.

8. First Party-The Great Gatsby
No one films a party quite like Baz Luhrmann does, and his take on 1920s extravagance is no exception. Fueled by anachronistic bass and a fine-tuned sense for chaos, The Great Gatsby grabs us by the face and tosses us jazz-hands-first into its teeming morass of questionable morality. (it's kind of a cut-up version, but 1:33-4:55 of this video gives you the idea.)

7. Confession/Catharsis-The Act of Killing
Brought for the second time to the site of the executions he committed, the main subject of this documentary finally comprehends the breadth of his own evil, and his body physically rebels at the idea of it. Chilling stuff. (Note: don't watch if you don't want to hear an old man retching for a couple minutes...)

6. After the Rescue-Captain Phillips
It's really kind of ridiculous that Tom Hanks didn't get an Oscar nomination for this performance. At the end of this film, he shows us a side of himself we've never seen before, and it's scared, bruised, and achingly vulnerable.

5. Llewyn's Audition-Inside Llewyn Davis
Poor Llewyn. He puts his heart and soul into getting to Chicago to audition for a man he thinks will sign him for a record, he sings his heart out, bearing more of himself than we've ever seen, and immediately afterwards he's dismissed in the worst possible way: "I don't see a lot of money in this." What a gut punch.
(Tragically, I can't find this clip on youtube, but here at least is the song he sings:

4. Space Junk-Gravity
The space debris (not) heard around the world. At the end of the breathtaking, 10-minute long opening shot of the film, disaster strikes our intrepid astronauts, and the intensity and chaos that follows sets the tone for the rest of the film. (It's just a little piece of it, but whatever.)

3. "Everytime"-Spring Breakers
This strange, strange scene totally encapsulates what this movie has going for it--a weird mash of pop culture, banality, graphic violence, and surreal beauty, all underscored by Britney Spears. It's bizarre, but totally unforgettable. (This scene has some crappy filter added to it, but it's the only version I can find. Just rest assured that the movie doesn't actually look like that.)

2. Soap and a Beating-12 Years a Slave

One of the biggest emotional climaxes of an already draining film. Patsy, a slave drained of every inch of human dignity, finally rebels in the slightest way (getting a piece of soap), causing her to be stripped, tied to a post, and whipped by her friend--and all of this is shot in one long take. It's utterly gripping, profoundly affecting stuff. (This is only the beginning, so you won't see the whipping and such, if you're feeling squeamish.)

1. Things We Lost in the Fire-Prince Avalanche

Prince Avalanche takes place in a rural area that has just been ravaged by fire. One of the characters happens on a woman digging through the burned-out ruins of her house, who says she's looking for her pilot's license and log-book, just so she could have a way to hold onto the memories of the things she lost, as if to prove they were there. It's a beautiful, poignant scene, but then I read afterwards that the scene was unstaged--the film-crew just met a woman digging through some ruins, and convinced her they were a news crew. Mind=blown. (Sadly, the only thing I can find is the scene w/ commentary from the director. Which is interesting, of course, but if you haven't seen the scene already you don't really get to hear any of it...)

New Image Awards-for movies that show us something original and unique. ...Basically the ones that make my eyes turn into little hearts for a little while.

-Pacific Rim-I'm not saying that we haven't seen giant sea monsters fighting robots (although, really, not since Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster [aw hell yes]), but I'm just so thrilled that a mainstream blockbuster threw the idea that action movies have to look gritty out the window, and spent the whole time looking like the inside of Joel Schumacher's neon sex dungeon. (...Joel Schumacher directed Batman and Robin.)
-Upstream Color-just because I am still totally perplexed by this movie. The editing, the cinematography, the music--it's all so deliciously weird and original.

Best Inanimate Object in a Movie
The freighter-sword in Pacific Rim: it's a freighter sword. I don't really need to say any more. When this scene happened I almost peed my pants.
Jennifer Lawrence's nail polish-American Hustle: Cuz it smells like flowers and garbage, y'know, like me. (I'm Jennifer Lawrence in this context.) (It's in the movie, guys.) (Don't throw shoes at me.)
The fish in August: Osage County: Eat the fish, bitch! Eat the fish, eat the fish, eat the fish! How much fun was this scene? Look at it:

The "You're Not This Gay, but Dammit, You're Trying" Award for Excellence in Homoeroticism
Tragically, there aren't really any good applicants here this year. Sad. So I guess this award goes to me, if only because I'm pretty sure that at least 70% of the reason I liked Man of Steel was because Henry Cavill made me forget my name for like, ten minutes straight. I didn't even realize I still had all four limbs until I left the theater. ...Dude's pretty, is what I'm getting at here.

Best Glowing Devil Penis
Post Tenebras Lux. Ha! You read that part of the intro and thought you could avoid the devil penis. Well, if you'd watch more little indie avant garde movies from Mexico, you'd know that none of us escapes the devil penis. Also, he carries a briefcase. Y'know, in case he wants to read the paper while he's busy watching your children while they sleep, I guess.

James Franco's Shit
Spring Breakers. Look at it. Look at his shit. This is his dream. ('s the context for that: Man this movie was weird.

Happiest Surprise/Best Casting
I expected The Croods to be kind of awful, and yet it kind of wasn't. The animation, at any rate, was just alarmingly gorgeous, which was definitely a surprise, considering we're talking about The Croods. And plus: Nicholas Cage plays a cave-man. How is it 2014 and this is only just now happening? Madness.

Best Action Sequence that's Basically just Rube Goldberg with Little People
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug-so much of this movie is a drag, but that ridiculous, 20-minute long game they play with the dragon at the end, just huge swaths of furry little dwarfs lighting fires and riding in carts and crap, all to try to make the world's largest big gold dragon statue. Not gonna lie--I giggled like a maniac.

...But I have made you BROWNIES.
I have made you brownies FROM SCRATCH. Watch:

On that note...
You guys, why did no one give Beautiful Creatures a fair shake? I get that the Twilight comparisons were inevitable, but Beautiful Creatures is a glorious camp masterpiece. The hair. The collars. The wacky glowing eyes. And why isn't Alden Ehrenreich a huge star by now? This movie was bonkers, and I loved it.

Worst Instincts in an Otherwise Good Film
The Conjuring. Whole lotta solid scares in that movie, but it kept undermining itself at every turn. Take, for instance, that scene with the mom in the cellar. It's creepy, it's suspenseful, we've been building up to it for minutes. So WHY THE SWEET CHOCOLATE JESUS do we find it necessary to dispel all that tension with some stupid ghost whisper before the actual shock comes? So, so stupid.

The Most Merciless Scene All Year (Spoiler Alert)
Lone Survivor. Not that it's much of a spoiler, given the title (-___-), but one of the characters is broken beyond repair, and he's propped up against a tree. We see some insurgents calmly taking aim at his body. Then we cut to a long shot of him leaning against the tree. We hear the first gun shot--it misses and hits the tree. Second gun shot--misses again. Third shot--right in the head. No close-up, or dramatic music. Just us watching some poor guy watching a bunch of people who can't aim trying to shoot him in the head. It's absolutely brutal. It's the stuff of nightmares. If the whole movie had this kind of bleak courage, it would've been the best movie of the year.

Best Credits Music Decision
Playing "The Wolves (Part 1 and 2) by Bon Iver at the end of The Place Beyond the Pines. I'm pretty sure most of the feels I got from that movie/respect I have for it comes exclusively from the combination of that ending and that song.

Before we get to the worst films of the year...
I need to talk about Dallas Buyers Club. It didn't make my bottom 5 of the year, but it came close--primarily because it's 2014, and we don't need another story of the super-hetero, all-American dickbag coming to play AIDS-Jesus to those poor, poor gays. We shouldn't need a hetero filter to be able to even attempt to watch movies about gay people. I'm so, so goddamn sick of movies selling themselves by saying things like "AIDS? But look! This guy loves pussy! It's about him! Watch this straight man! The token gay character's going to die, and we'll all cry!" This was tacky and offensive when it was happening in 1993. We're better than this. Everyone stop validating this terrible, terrible message. Side note: also so, so sick of smarmy straight men re-assuring us in their awards speeches how straight they are, even though they were playing some queer. It's degrading. It's stupid. I shouldn't have to be fucking hearing it in 2014. So get your shit together, Matthew McConaughey/Jared Leto/Michael Douglas. Be better.

Ok. Rant out of my system. Just in time for...

The Worst Films of the Year!
What a crazy random happenstance! All of the worst films are pointless reboots, remakes, or sequels!

5. The Wolverine
Look. I'm an X-Men fanboy. I have been watching mutants kicking robots in the balls for decades. I will never recover from the fact that there will never be a real man as perfect as Cyclops (or Ultimate Colossus, for that matter). I am this movie's target audience. And it made me want to cut every one of my limbs off with a used heroin needle. Why does this keep happening? Someone make Hugh Jackman sit in the corner and think about what he's done.

4. Oz the Great and Powerful
As if Dallas Buyers Club weren't doing enough this year to pooping on the LGBT community, now Oz the Great and Powerful's got to see if it's possible to re-kill Judy Garland through sheer awfulness. This movie looks like a Leni Reifenstahl mexican-food nightmare, and it's about as much fun.

3. Evil Dead
Again, I'm the target audience here. I love slashers/horror/gore. I judge people entirely by how much they laugh while watching Evil Dead 2. I sometimes dream about waking up to discover I've turned into Bruce Campbell. So what the hell happened here? This shows what happens when you rip all the joy out of the dead rising and massacring teenagers. It's just no fun.

Now hold onto your butts, because it's a tie for last place!

1. TIE: Despicable Me 2 and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
I didn't pick a champion here, because they're exactly the same movie, and I hate them for exactly the same reasons. They're loud. They're stupid. They're vapid and unoriginal and useless. They're gigantic cash grabs aimed at desperate parents who will pay $10 if the stupid monkey on the screen can get their children to shut up for two hours. I get it. It's capitalism. There's no need for anything to have artistic merit as long as you can make millions of dollars doing it.

But you know what? I don't want to live in that world. The hell with that. Let's not lower the bar anymore. Sure, we can still make great big movie-babysitters, but let's make them worth something. Let's stop letting studios exploit us for every last cent because we're desperate, or we're bored, or because it's easier to watch something where you already know everyone involved, and everything that's going to happen. Let's just...stop that. Guyz. Stahp. Stahp it now. For realsies. I'm serious. Cut it out.

Good grief. That went on for quite some time. And it got a little dark at the end. While that's what I've got to say for today. ...I say 'today,' but I've been writing this since yesterday morning actually, and I'm a bit burnt out. So please, for the love of all that is good and holy, post a comment validating my silly, silly effort. I'd love to discuss all this! ....with someone that isn't made of pixels.

Also, for your enjoyment: this video wrap-up of the year is better than anything I could have done. It's friggin' spectacular. Watch it, and you'll see all the pretty pictures that go with what I was trying to say:

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