06 April 2014
I saw 90 movies in 2013 (or shortly thereafter, if we’re being honest- I don’t know how anyone is expected to see all the Christmas releases in one week!). 90 is a lot of movies, or at least it is for me (I head up My Theatre and My TV, My Cinema is Rachael’s problem). I think 90′s a lot for anyone (to clarify- that’s 90 movies that came out in 2013, not movies in general). It’s especially a lot in a year that was something of a disappointment film-wise. Following up the greatness that was 2012, 2013 left me feeling a little uninspired. There were some highlights, certainly- some tiny movies, some huge, some blockbusters, some critical favourites, some flops that got a bad rap- but little of the excitement that I felt the previous year.
To recap the year, I decided to replace a top 10 list (or top 15, if you’re 2012) with a full ranking of My Cinematic 2013. All year long I kept tabs on what I saw, jotting down a few notes and fitting each film into the ever-growing list wherever I instinctively felt it should go. With the perspective of time, some have moved up or down a few spots but both #1 and #90 have stayed firmly in their hard-earned territory as the best and the worst.
And don’t forget to read all about our Honorable Mention (aka the genius 2013 film we didn’t see early enough to rank).
1. The Dirties
Despite this being my pick for the Best Movie of the Year, you may notice that I never wrote a review. I interviewed writer/director/star Matt Johnson as part of our Nominee Interview Series (he’s nominated for quite a few My Cinema Awards), but I haven’t actually written all that much about The Dirties. The reason is that it’s really a movie you need to experience for yourself. I can tell you that it’s important, that it’s emotional, that it’s funny and terrifying and moving, but I can’t really explain the magic and innovation that exists within this Canadian indie. All I can say is that you have to see it. You have to. How can something with a “feee-ney!” joke leave you shaking when you exit the theatre? How can a scene set at You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown rehearsal be one of the scariest in cinematic memory? How can one film send your head and your heart and your moral compass spinning so dramatically that you can’t explain which way is up? Ladies and Gentlemen, The Dirties.
There are a ton of elements that make Her the phenomenal achievement that it is. The nuanced central performance from Joaquin Phoenix (in my opinion the unrivalled best actor of his generation), the fantastic supporting cast (Amy Adams, Chris Pratt, Matt Letscher, Olivia Wilde, Portia Doubleday- all doing some of their best work), how incredibly real and emotional Scarlett Johansson is able to make Samantha in a voice-only performance that proves that she’s so much more than just a curvy body, the moody cinematography, Arcade Fire’s music, the near-future costuming speculation. But what makes Her brilliant, for me, is far more fundamental than the excellent craftsmanship from the actors, cinematographer, editors and everyone in between. With Her, Spike Jonze tells one of the best stories I’ve heard in a very long time. Simple as that. He imagines this improbable love story- a clever but conceivable conceit considering the current trajectory of technology- then he sets it in this brilliantly realized world. He foresees the future of video games (very likely to come true), fashion trends (high pants, hopefully less true), transportation and communication. He shows us this everyman protagonist excelling in a beautifully bittersweet job constructing artificial correspondence between those too busy or otherwise disinclined to write for themselves (that job alone shows us so clearly who Theodore is, the world in which he lives and how he fits into it). He then takes every expectation I had about the outcome of this improbable romance in this future world and whooshes past them. My puny little brain could only conceive of about 20% of the thrillingly insightful places Spike Jonze takes the story of Her. Everything I thought the film would be, Her is within the first half hour. The sheer imagination of it knocked me sideways.
I was raised on the 90s Disney musicals; they’re about as close to my heart as something can get (they live there with Gilbert Blythe and Charlie Conway). Frozen is the first release since Mulan that really builds much on that legacy. Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez’s songs are on par with the Alan Menken greats and Jennifer Lee’s screenplay is all sorts of delightful. Voiced by the lovely Kristen Bell, Anna is allowed to be a flawed, girlish heroine who gets schmoopy eyed when a boy likes the same things as her (you know, like a real person does) and deeply hurt when her big sister no longer wants to build snowmen (raise your hand if you wept during “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?”). And the reindeer is clearly based on my Bernese Mountain Dog, Toby (the similarities are startling). Disney, it seems, has also Finally figured out what “true love” is! My only complaints are how mismatched Idina Menzel’s voice seems with the animated Elsa and the fact that Jonathan Groff doesn’t get a proper song (though I will say that Santino Fontana’s singing voice is plenty dreamy).
4. The Kings of Summer
This is my favourite kind of movie- a small summer release that walks the line of comedy and drama. The batting average of films like that seems to be remarkably high (see all 4 of my top films of 2012). The Kings of Summer is a simple coming-of-age, teenage rebellion story that beautifully reflects all the emotional complexities of friendship power dynamics and deep-seated resentments of paternal control. 19-year-old Nick Robinson delivers a wonderful, grounded leading performance as ringleader Joe while The Big C‘s superb Gabriel Basso proves once again with his performance as conflicted best friend Patrick that more of you should know the name Gabriel Basso. Moises Arias completes the fantastic trio bringing his unique brand of sympathetic weirdo to the unforgettable role of hanger-on Biaggio. This movie also has Nick Offerman, so that should be enough to get you to invest; Robinson, Basso, Arias, writer Chris Galletta’s remarkable insight and director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ sense of wonder can take it from there.
5. About Time
Oh, Richard Curtis, you make me feel So Much. Usually overwhelming joy but sometimes heart-wrenching sadness and pangs of empathy and faith in the human spirit and admiration for your incredible consistency as a filmmaker. You’ve made more of my favourite movies than any other single writer and for that- and for this transcendent, cathartic gem of an all encompassing love story- I thank you. I would also like to thank Domhnall Gleeson for being the most winning and relatable leading man of the year. The charming marketing campaign sells this insanely beautiful film a little short- give it a shot.
6. The Heat
I don’t usually go in for action comedies. I liked 21 Jump Street a lot last year but I usually prefer my humour gunshot-free. But The Heat was undeniable. It was just so damn funny. It’s great to have two female leads in a film for the general audience that doesn’t feel the need to apologize for having two female leads. The Heat doesn’t shy away from giving the characters at least a semblance of love lives nor does it undermine its more sentimental moments by throwing in unnecessary base humour to cater to an artificial conception of “male taste”. But it’s not a “girl movie” either. What I liked most about the Sandra Bullock-Melissa McCarthy combo was that neither was forced into the straight man role. Bullock wasn’t the pretty, normal one opposite McCarthy’s zany wildcard, she got to be her own brand of hilarious. In fact, the film’s best scene is entirely owned by Bullock as she attempts to save a choking man in a Denny’s. Strong characters, fun dialogue and a great supporting cast (what up, Taran Killam!) make up for a fairly predictable twist ending and McCarthy gets a chance to show her actual acting chops with a great familial tie-in to the plot. The Bullock-McCarthy chemistry is definitely something producers should bet on going forward.
7. It’s a Disaster
Netflix forced me into this indie dramedy by keeping it front and centre on my recommendations list for months and months until I finally gave in. I don’t know why I was resisting; Netflix knows me better than most of my friends. One of many “the world is ending” comedies in the last few years, It’s a Disaster stands out for finding the perfect balance between comedy and melancholy. The 8-person ensemble is fantastic (Welcome back, Julia Stiles! Great to see you, America Ferrera!) and the characters, though built on stereotypes, are diverse and engaging. Writer/director Todd Berger gives himself plenty of tools through sneaky exposition in act one and uses every single one of them by act three, creating a tightly-paced almost real-time story that never drags or grapples for plot filler but also leaves no hanging threads. This script would make a good play, but it makes a great movie.
8. Iron Man 3
It was incredibly unexpected, but I Loved Iron Man 3. I laughed heartily enough to warrant a few looks of bewilderment, may have come close to shedding a tear, and dragged my unimpressed father to go see it no more than 3 days after my first viewing. The first Iron Man is pretty great (and such a massive game-changer for superhero movie making) but I didn’t even bother to see the second one. I’m a superhero-optional kind of movie goer; I’ll see most of them because they’re pretty fun, but if I never get around to The Amazing Spider-Man, it’s not the end of the world. But there was something about Tony Stark’s post-Avengers discombobulation that I found really intriguing (sure he’s a superhero but he had always lived in a strictly earth-bound world and all of a sudden Thor’s a thing, and evil aliens). I flipped for the sequence with the dad-less kid (“dads leave, no need to be a pussy about it”), the post-credits reveal, and the sad-but-triumphant ending (an existential crisis is so much more endearing coming from a great wit rather than a brooder). The misdirect on The Mandarin was a genius bit of commentary and comedy (not to mention a rare cinematic twist I actually didn’t see coming) and made perfect use of Ben Kingsley’s lesser-known comic skills. I could even get behind the McGuffin-tastic science of the big bad, especially when punctuated by one of the year’s best lines “I don’t even like working here; they are so weird”. Robert Downey Jr. is perfect as Tony to the point where it’s useless to even bother explaining why. So, instead, I’m going to say how give the credit to Drew Pearce and Shane Black whose script is just dead on. One of my favourite superhero movies ever; no, I don’t care that you now think I’m crazy.
9. Drinking Buddies
In the Lynn Shelton tradition of intimate, improvised movies about immensely complicated human relationships, Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies is charming and funny while being entirely too real-feeling to be fully comfortable (I mean that as a compliment). It also stars an ace 4-person ensemble that includes the always-great Anna Kendrick and personal favourite Ron Livingston playing second fiddle to Nick Miller (Jake Johnson, but he’s always Nick Miller and that’s how I like it) and Olivia Wilde, an actress entirely too smart and soulful to be mostly remembered for being really hot. Let’s start the “Everyone Pay Attention To Olivia Wilde’s Brain and Talent” campaign, shall we? We can start by making everyone watch Drinking Buddies.
10. The Way Way Back
First of all, Sam Rockwell is amazing. He’s amazing all the time, in anything (remember when he was in Charlie’s Angels? He was even amazing in Charlie’s Angels). He’s particularly wonderful as Owen, the reluctant friend/mentor of lost-kid Duncan (Liam James) in this excellently cast summer nostalgia trip courtesy of ace melancholy dramedy writers Dean Pelton and That Guy (aka Jim Rash and Nat Faxon). Also particularly awesome in this movie- Maya Rudolph as a reluctantly practical person.